Away-from-home Eating: Pleasures and Perils

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pleasures, sure; that one’s obvious. But perhaps “perils” is too strong a word? Maybe “pitfalls”? Well, you get the point. Read on. I’ll elaborate.

The Bristol Cathedral (Photo by Roger Harper)

A Brief Jaunt to the UK

I’m currently at the University of Bristol in Southwest England for a scientific conference, after which I’ll be heading to London to meet my husband for a few days of fun. So, after last week’s somewhat esoteric and perhaps slightly less-than-exciting focus on vegetable stock and vegetable juice, this week I’ll be writing about food from across the pond. (For those of you that haven’t made a trip across the Atlantic, it’s just about the same distance as flying across the US, six hours or so.) I’ll also share some of my tips on good food habits while traveling, whether for business or pleasure. I first explored this theme in brief in a blog post when I was in Australia in June, as it comes up whenever I embark on a journey.

Food in the UK used to be ill-regarded. In fact, a colleague just asked me this very evening, “What do you think about British food?”

“Jolly good,” I replied.

(No, I didn’t really say that. Come on.)

Actually, the days of British food sucking—excuse me, I mean, being less than fabulous—are long gone. There is fantastic international fare to be enjoyed in London as well as other parts of England. Indian food in particular is outstanding, and many superb gastropubs have sprung up in the past decade or so. Not to mention the comforting, down-to-earth, old-fashioned British pub fare like cask ale, fish and chips, and sticky toffee pudding. I’ll be writing about all of this and more as the as the week unfolds, so stay tuned.

Ah, Plane Food

Maybe perils wasn’t too strong a word, after all…

Before leaving for a trip, I always begin by thinking through food for the week and planning accordingly. Why, you ask? First, it is very easy to overeat when traveling, which can lead to weight gain; this is especially true if fitness schedules are also on hold. Second, I’m often out and about and don’t always want to stop for meals (other than dinner). Also, I hate eating crappy food. Like, say, plane food.

Way better than plane food, no?

For example, last night I took a red eye from Boston to London. Rather than eat bad plane food at 1am to simply pass the time, I made a wonderful dinner at home before leaving for the airport. I really, really wanted to get that on tape for you, as it was a pretty amazing meal, but things were a bit too hectic. I prepared seared blue fish with sautéed shiitake mushrooms and braised beet and radish greens served with gremolata and olive tapenade. I also had left over pastry from last week’s French apple tart so made a mini tart for two. Having a nice meal at home before leaving was very important to avoid eating food that was low in taste and nutritional value and high in calories. As well, I wanted to eat a healthy, home cooked meal because I’ll be away for an entire week. As much as I love dining out, I do miss my own dinners where I can control the ingredients and portions. (I know, you’re shocked.) And, um, it’s often better.

I also passed on the plane’s morning breakfast that was served 3 hours after they had served dinner (!). Did I mention it was 4am EST? Skipping plane meals are good places to avoid ingesting extra calories that are barely palatable. Save your appetite for the destination!

I do travel with my own snack food in case I get hungry – or trapped on the plane, for that matter. I generally bring a bag of trail mix, which consisted of almonds, golden raisins, dried cranberries, and pistachios this time around although the particular combination varies with what I have on hand. Use what you like! Eat sparingly, though: trail mix is healthy in small doses but quite energy-dense. I also travel with fresh fruit. I stuck the banana from the breakfast plane meal in my bag because I still had a bunch of hours left before reaching my final destination.

My First Dinner Abroad

When I finally arrived in Bristol and got myself settled, I headed out for a light dinner. I was thrilled with my salad of tuna and poached egg with roasted saffron potatoes, red peppers, and Kalamata olives atop a bed of rocket (another word for arugula, a peppery herbaceous salad green). I’m annoyed I didn’t get a photo of the meal to show you, as it was quite lovely.

I won’t lie: I was temped by some of the classic pub fare on the menu as I haven’t been to the UK for a few years. Nevertheless, I decided to eat lightly considering it’s the first of seven dinners out and there will be plenty of larger meals this week. And what a delightful and hearty salad it was! I also enjoyed a pint (or two) of Butcombe’s bitter, a traditional cask ale. This gained me respect at the bar, I might add. Cask ales are among the major gustatory reasons to visit England, in my view. That, and the fish and chips. No, it’s really not the same in the States, believe me. Check back later this week on why.

PS: For those interested, I will post the final piece to wrap up the veggie juice nutritional issue very soon. I know, you can’t contain your excitement. In the meantime, I will say this: I made a bloody mary on Sunday with store bought veggie juice and it was not remotely comparable to my homemade version. This underscores one of the big problems with making everything yourself … once you realize how much better the real thing is when made from scratch with farm-fresh ingredients, it’s very hard to go back!

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Dr. P.K. Newby is a nutrition scientist, speaker, and author with expertise in all things food, farm to fork, whether preventing obesity and other chronic diseases through diet or teaching planet-conscious eating. As a health expert and food personality, she brings together her passions for food, cooking, science, and sustainability to educate and inspire, helping people eat their way towards better health, one delectable bite at a time. Healthy Hedonism (TM) is her philosophy: Because healthy food shouldn’t suck.

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