Calories Do Count

LOVE Hong Kong street food no matter the calories
LOVE Hong Kong street food no matter the calories

Someone once joked that he actually enjoyed eating airline food because up in the air the calories didn’t count. Wouldn’t that be nice if it were true?

High on my list of favorite things about travel is eating. I enjoy getting a break from meal planning, cooking, and cleaning up, but I also love finding great new places to eat, and getting to try out a region’s cuisine including sampling the street fare whenever I can.

It’s very easy for me to overeat when I travel, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve had to develop strategies so that I come home at least weighing the same as I did before I left, if not less. These days I eat what I want when I’m on the road, but I eat less and budget my calories. I’m careful about what I choose to eat, and make sure I get plenty of exercise. I don’t travel somewhere else to eat fast foods or things I can find here at home, so avoid those places (the exception is to get a Teriyaki McBurger and maybe a yogurt shake at McDonald’s in Japan). I want to eat what I can’t get here!

Breakfast! It's always hard to choose from all the beautiful offerings.
Breakfast! It’s always hard to choose from all the beautiful offerings.

My favorite travel breakfast these days is a pastry (muffin, roll, toast or such) and coffee. Sometimes I’ll upgrade to a latte, but I usually try to save those for an afternoon break, and not every day. I’ll always have fresh fruit too if it’s available. Japan has the most incredible bakeries – they give Paris a run for its money – and it’s easy and affordable to stop off and pick up something for breakfast, or to put aside for the next day. I also adore Eggs Benedict in any form, but they are a special treat these days, and only if I can share the order with someone else.

When I’m on the road I try to make lunch my biggest meal of the day. Not only does lunch typically cost less than dinner (sometimes there can be several dollars difference for the same menu item depending on whether it’s being served for lunch or dinner), but eating more at lunch still gives me time to burn some of the calories I consume. My preferred dinner is typically something light, like a sandwich, or in Japan, sushi or a bowl of noodles. I stick with water for my beverage most of the time, although I do like a cocktail or some wine once in a while. The calories from those though can add up fast.

Crepes are my favorite sweet treat in Japan these days. So many delicious varieties!
Crepes are my favorite sweet treat in Japan these days. So many delicious varieties!

As I’ve written before, I am not big on sweets, but it’s easy for me to be swayed when I’m traveling. Sometimes I can snag a bite from Brett or the girls, but usually I just have a cup of coffee. Starbucks are ubiquitous in Japan, and they have different Frappuchino specialty flavors than the U.S., things like matcha brownie or sakura, delicious Japanese cherry flavor.  One of the hidden blessings of eating in Japan though is that portion sizes are usually smaller than what we get here in the States, so I can order my own dessert or sweet snack and not overindulge. Their sweets are also much less “sweet” than what we eat here in the U.S. and don’t contain as much sugar.

Getting enough exercise is critical, and most places we’ve visited have thankfully required a LOT of walking. We hiked all over the Grand Canyon and Sedona when we were there recently, and I usually always lose weight when I visit Japan because I have to walk so much, whether it’s down to the corner to catch a cab, or to a bus stop or train station. There are always lots and lots of stairs to climb up and down there as well (people don’t often just stand on escalators but climb up and down them as they move). When you get off the train or bus somewhere, or out of a cab, there’s always more walking to do, as there is when you visit any historical site. The same was true on visits to Hong Kong, Beijing and other cities in China.

While I love the serendipity of discovering a good restaurant or snack bar or such, these days it’s easy and fun to research restaurants before you depart. Sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and others rate restaurants and offer reviews, and you can often read menus as well. These are especially helpful if you are on a special diet or are vegetarian or vegan. I usually head off with a list of restaurants and/or dishes I’d like to try. I also ask locals for their favorite places to eat while we’re visiting and have gotten fantastic tips about places I wouldn’t have known about or tried otherwise.

Whatever I eat when I’m traveling, whether I’m up in the air or down on the ground, those calories do count. I treat them like money in a checking account, spending them carefully, and replenishing my account whenever I can with exercise. Splurges are allowed and encouraged if they’re done judiciously.

OK, now I’m hungry!

Eating Vegan On the Road

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Let me start out by saying that if I did not allow myself to occasionally eat fish or eggs I would have gone hungry on our trip to Colorado. It was a real eye-opener for what it must be like for full-time vegans, or others who have dietary restrictions for whatever reason, to arrive in a new place and try to find something to eat. Long-time vegans most likely have a lot of tricks up their sleeves, but for a newby like me, it was a genuine challenge to find healthy and satisfying options.

To begin with, airlines have very limited choices, if any, in vegan offerings (not that anyone should count on an airline feeding you these days). We flew Alaska Air on our trip to Colorado Springs last week, and they had exactly one snack box for sale that was suitable for vegans (with crackers, nuts, hummus), but at least they had something. United Airlines, which we flew on our way home, had nothing vegan unless you threw out the cheese spreads that came in their snack options. Hawaiian Airlines, the only domestic carrier that still offers free meal service, does not have a vegan meal choice. Actually, they don’t offer any meal choices at all – you eat what is served or you don’t eat.

Vegan choices within the airports themselves didn’t seem to be much better, although I know they exist. WenYu and I wandered through our Los Angeles airport terminal (one of seven at LAX) during our layover, looking for a restaurant or snack bar that offered something vegan. We ended up ordering fish and chips (which were actually very affordable and good) because we could not find anything vegan other than french fries, onion rings or salad.

Salads are of course a vegan’s friend, but what if you can’t eat them? I have a food intolerance to many types of lettuce (they give me a terrifically upset stomach), so I unfortunately have to avoid most salads. Looking at the menu options on just this last trip, many if not most of the “meal-size” salads came anyway with additional meat, or cheese, or creamy dressings. Even at Colorado College, where we figured there would be a decent-sized vegan cohort to feed, all I found to eat was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some coconut milk yogurt (the PB&J was actually quite delicious). Every other vegetarian option there contained cheese. We thankfully found a restaurant near our hotel that had vegan options on the menu, and there were vegan options at the breakfast the hotel provided.

So what’s an almost-vegan like me to do? I know now that before I travel again I need to do my research, and look for vegan restaurant recommendations. I need to read restaurant menus ahead of time, if possible, along with reviews and always check the side menu. I need to pack my own items (granola bars, nuts, etc.) that can tide me over if I can’t find something to eat. I also need to find a source for fresh fruit and vegetables, or for smoothies that don’t contain dairy. And, I need to accept that menu choices will most likely be limited, and not feel sorry for myself if everyone else is having a juicy burger or pizza and I’m not.

The most difficult ingredient to avoid seems to be dairy. Meat is pretty obvious, but dairy products can be hidden in so many ways, or added at the last moment. I found that out when we were at the Grand Canyon, when an otherwise vegan soup was garnished with sour cream, or the vegan chili I ordered was topped with grated cheese. I could have avoided both if I had been clear about “no dairy” with my server. I learned I need to speak up when I give my order. This is actually a good rule all around: ask if something is really vegan, or if it’s not, ask if there’s a way to make it vegan (can the cheese be left out, for example). Many restaurants are more than willing to accommodate vegans and/or vegetarians and adjust or adapt a menu item.

Eating vegan when you’re traveling is not impossible, but it can be a challenge. There are options out there, but you need to know before you go what those options are, or if you are willing to make changes, if necessary. One of the reasons I allow myself to occasionally eat fish is not just because we live in Hawai’i, but because fish is nearly impossible to avoid altogether in Japan. Maintaining a vegan diet in Japan can be very difficult, especially if you have to or want to eat out. Dashi, or fish stock, is ubiquitous in Japanese cooking, and can be there even if the rest of a dish is vegetarian or vegan.

Most of all though, I need to remember why I am eating a near-vegan diet these days. I need to remind myself that I feel much, much better without dairy or meat in my diet. No matter how good a burger or ice cream looks, I know I am going to pay for it later if I decide to eat it now. “I’m on vacation” no longer counts as a worthy excuse for giving up my eating parameters.

This Week’s Menu

Slow cooker chicken adobo with bok choy
Slow cooker chicken adobo with bok choy

First things first: We spent $31.75 on produce last week, a little bit more than we usually do, but still a lot less than we’d pay in a store here. The most expensive item? Bananas! They were not easy to find for some reason last week. Broccoli and tomatoes were also high, but the season for them here is short so their price is always more. Pineapples are just starting to appear at the market, but they’re still charging tourist prices right now (i.e. $12 for a small one). As I said in one comment yesterday, for some farmers we buy from, the markets are the only way they earn a living.

It’s going to be a kind of screwy week here menu-wise at Casa Aloha because WenYu and I will be gone for two days out of the week. Also, last week’s menu got a bit messed up because I forgot about Thursday’s never-ending track meet (they didn’t get home until around 9:30 p.m.) and bought broccoli at the farmers’ market which needed to be used up sooner rather than later – I made stir-fried tofu & broccoli with spicy peanut sauce for our dinner last night.

So, coming into this week I have two meals getting bumped from last week, and there will be two days where Brett and YaYu will be on their own. WenYu and I won’t be arriving until way after the dinner hour on Saturday, so it will be another YOYO night for all of us.

I’m not too concerned about eating while I’m in Colorado although I know nothing about the town, or how to get around in it. We’ll stop somewhere on the way to the campus on Thursday to grab lunch, and then I’m going spend a short time with WenYu after we arrive, but otherwise she’ll be on her own until we meet up for lunch on campus on Friday. Some of this is because I want her to experience as many things at the college as possible without me being a filter (and who wants to check out a college anyway with your mom hanging around), but also because I know I am going to be drop-dead exhausted from our overnight flight to Seattle followed by the flight to Colorado. I plan to check into our hotel as soon as I possibly can and go to sleep!! The hotel has a cafe, and I did find some tasty looking vegan items on their menu so that will do for my dinner on Thursday, and breakfast on Friday and Saturday is free at the hotel. WenYu and I will go out to dinner somewhere on Friday evening.

Anyway, here’s the menu for next week, although there are no guarantees that it won’t get changed either!

  • Tuesday (tonight): Drunken noodles with tofu
  • Wednesday: Grilled fish tacos with mango salsa; Mexican rice
  • Thursday: YOYO for Brett and YaYu
  • Friday: YOYO for Brett and YaYu; WenYu and I are going out to eat (we’re thinking Japanese)
  • Saturday: ?????
  • Sunday: Hiyashi-chuka (cold noodle salad – no ham for me)
  • Monday: Slow cooker chicken adobo with bok choy; steamed rice (not sure yet what I’ll have)

Once again, we’ll see how it goes!