The last time Mr. Noodle and I went on a long holiday, my metabolism decided to take a break, too, leaving me at the mercy of an unforgiving all-you-can-eat hotel buffet. Two weeks and ten pounds later, I was back at home, unpleasantly plump and determined never to let vacation eating get the best of me again. So, when we recently loaded up the Big Maroon for an epic 17-day roadtrip through the western United States and knowing that our meals would be on the fly, I initiated The Plan [codename: Put Down the Donut].
No fast food joints or hotel buffets, I declared. We would keep our tastebuds at the ready for local specialties, but only to sample and share, not gorge and hoard. We would stop at local groceries to buy yogurts for early breakfast, energy bars for lunch on the go and the Three S's (soup-salad-sandwich) for dinner in our hotel room. Finally, to counter the inevitable muscle atrophy from hours behind the wheel, we would take every opportunity at rest stops, gift shops and scenic overdrops overlooks to stretch, stroll, hike and otherwise make use of our limbs. [At this time, Mr. Noodle would like to make it clear that he had no say in The Plan.]
On paper, it was a solid strategy, but like paper, it flew out the open car window once we put the pedal to the metal.
Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Lookin' for adventure
And whatever comes our way . . .
"Born to Be Wild"
written by Mars Bonfire & performed by Steppenwolf
The desire to eat healthfully while on holiday ran straight into a favorite Noodle travel ritual - the Sharing of Cheesy, Crunchy Snacks. Early in our marriage, when our finances couldn't yet afford airfare to visit family out of state, my husband and I relied on roadtrips to take us where we needed to go. From North Carolina to Northern Virginia, from Charlotte to Chicago to Atlanta and countless treks in between, a full tank of gasoline and a package of faux-fromage fare were all the fuel we needed. At first, it was Planters Cheez Balls, which dusted the dashboard with Yellow#4 & Red#6 cheddar-ish powder and left bright orange fingerprints on the steering wheel. Nowadays, our meandering munchies of choice are the less messy but no less cheesy Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, beloved treat of stroller-bound tots everywhere and listed as #2 in Time magazine's Nine Kid Foods to Avoid.
So, what's the appeal of this pre-school, post-industrial snack to a peripatetic couple in a much bigger carriage? In a bite, Goldfish are tasty little things. They dull the sharp edge of hunger and stave off cravings until we reach our destination for a 'real' meal. They're perfect for eating with one hand and driving with the other, but still allow for quick reaction when both appendages are needed on the wheel. And they're better than caffeine: when the hypnotic ribbon of road ahead lulls me into drowsiness, nothing else snaps me back to alertness than a burst of sharp processed cheese flavor and the sound of contented crunching.
Although The Plan didn't factor Goldfish in its healthful criteria, that didn't stop us from indulging throughout our trip. I tried swapping them with rice crackers - equally tasty and crisp - but something was missing. They simply could not replicate the true value of the wee cheese fish, which have nothing to do with edibleness or nutrition and everything to do with sentiment.
Goldfish have been our cue that it's time to relax and enjoy; the only time we buy these snacks is when we are traveling. Our vacation truly starts not when we pull out of the driveway or reach our destination, but when that white and orange package is opened and those smiling fish tumble out like pieces of gold. Then, emails, voicemails, bills and blogs are left behind and all that matters is what lays ahead - a delicate rainbow curving over the road after a Nebraska summer shower, moss-covered trees along the Columbia River Gorge or a massive butte jutting into a clear blue Arizona sky.
Goldfish has been one of the special little things that Mr. Noodle and I share. When he neatly places a paper napkin on my lap as if it were the finest linen, then reaches under my arm - careful not to jostle as I steer - to shake out a handful of the crackers, I think that no tuxedo'ed waiter in the fanciest white-cloth restaurant could ever serve a finer meal. And when there's only a small handful left in the bag, we know that our next stop - our next adventure - is not far off.
"Split?" he asks. "It's all yours," I say. There's plenty of Goldfish down the road . . .
The Plan wasn't entirely abandoned during our trip - we picked up locally-produced foods at a couple of farmer's markets, co-ops and even a goat dairy, not to mention a variety of products that I brought home as edible souvenirs. So, I hope you'll join me in the next few weeks as I revisit some of the more memorable food adventures of our Wild West wanderings. Coming up first: North Platte Noodles, a roadtrip dinner do-over.