The Spy Test Kitchen staff are going on the road for a few days, so we are risking boring you by rerunning an old column. Thanks for your patience! Stay safe!
It’s time to claim your fair share of the back seat. Clamber in, and be ready for quality family time. You are going to get along with your brother and no, you cannot roll the window down again. It is too stinking hot. We will get there when we get there, and not a moment sooner. Did you go to the bathroom? Do you have a book from your summer reading list? Batteries charged? Let’s go!
When I was a child we seemed to spend every summer driving up and down the eastern seaboard visiting Civil War battlefields. My father was an elementary school teacher, and had the summers off, and we were his malleable minds. Every moment was a teaching opportunity. We were grist for his mill. The best time he has was spent at the dining room table, unfurling the AAA map, plotting our routes, and showing us everything that we would be seeing. He would have loved Google Maps!
My mother was a complete bluestocking. Everything one needs to know could be learned from reading a book. Somewhere she had developed a romantic notion that picnic lunches were homemade fried chicken, hard boiled eggs and brownies, with Dixie cups of lemonade from the Skotch Kooler to wash it all down. The lunch was best when packed in shoe boxes, everything wrapped in crinkly, unmanageable waxed paper. The March girls must have had a fried chicken picnic luncheon with the Lawrence boy once, passing little paper twists of salt and pepper for the eggs. I haven’t been able to find the literary precedent. But that is what my mother thought was a good meal for a family vacation. But when you were driving to Gettysburg from Connecticut, the brownie was gone before you reached New Jersey. The waxed paper was probably tasting delicious along about Princeton. We couldn’t pull off the interstate into a handy dandy McDonald’s then. The closest we came to fast food was an elegant evening meal at a Howard Johnson’s. Ah. Peppermint stick ice cream. Divine.
My own children fared a little better. They had McDonald’s. And an obsessive compulsive mother who loved all those cute little carcinogenic plastic boxes for Cheerios, Capri Sun juice pouches, yogurt in tubes, string cheese sticks, apples, oranges and grapes. I must have been like Charlie Brown’s friend Pigpen, with a trail of plastic recyclables following us at all times.
Things have gotten better here in the twenty-first century. We now have adorable containers that won’t kill us – I am a big fan of stainless Bento boxes. Mom is laughing at me, for using nice, safe brown, waxed-paper bags. And the snack foods are better, and easier to assemble. I won’t be sweating away in an un-air conditioned kitchen, frying up a batch of homemade fried chicken the night before our trip, and I reluctantly toss those shoe boxes into the recycling bin instead of creatively repurposing them as adorable little lunch boxes. I still call shotgun, though.
To pack up in cunning containers:
Popcorn – pop your own for heaven’s sake
Protein bars – but I won’t tell if you toss in a couple of Snickers bars
Bananas – be sure to get rid of the peels ASAP! Nothing worse than old banana smell in your car!
Carrots – excellent nutrition, easy to hurl at your brother
Grapes – ditto
Peanut butter crackers – Ritz and Peter Pan, simplicity itself
Pistachios – get the red ones and see whose fingers get the most disgusting
Trail mix – you can do this yourself, too
Cheerios – tried and true!
Slim Jims – you must have a disgusting boy in that car
Cheetos – because you are on vacation
Cookies – because you know you want some yourself, and this is the best recipe ever!
Reusable, leakproof water bottles – PBA free, of course
Civil War battlefield alternatives:
“I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”
― Mark Twain