Food Scoop: Traveling

I love traveling, although I’m less interested in sight-seeing than in those I’m visiting. I like to ask them to show me their town. When people show me why they love a place, it’s easier for me to love it, too. Almost invariably, this means eating out at their favorite restaurants.

Don’t get me wrong—eating out is lovely. It creates a better picture of the town I’m visiting. I like having choices and being able to have french fries when someone else has sweet potato fries. There are many foods that I can’t make at home, like Indian cuisine. As often as I peruse recipes, I find
Indian cookbooks use ingredients with which I am unfamiliar. I don’t know where to get them, or exactly what to do with them—but I adore Indian food. Chinese and Thai foods are the same way.
Even good deep-fried onion rings are something my kitchen isn’t really set up to do.

The problem with eating at restaurants while traveling is when I end up spending far more than I would in a normal week. It’s expensive, and I’m living on a student budget. Sometimes my body objects to a surfeit of new foods, especially if a majority of them are deep-fried. Still, it’s difficult to say no to someone who just wants to show you the best Mediterranean food in town.

Eating while traveling presents another problem, too, in the form of unfamiliar kitchens. When I don’t know where the tea is, or if my host owns a teapot, my entire morning routine is thrown off kilter. I tend to miss having cheese on toast for breakfast, or homemade minestrone soup for lunch. It’s not a hardcore homesickness, just a slight tug of longing for the comfort of food and routine.

Recently, I took a six-day trip out of Michigan. I had addictive green pepper and spinach pizza with a friend in Chicago. In Madison, another friend and I ordered veggie sandwiches for lunch, trading halves because we each liked what the other ordered. A group of us went out for Laotian cuisine, something I’d never tried before.

We didn’t just go out to eat. We had fried potatoes with Aleppo pepper and oregano for breakfast, and we also had roasted squash and carrots with coconut oil. Coming back through Chicago, I stopped at a party and encountered some homemade punch that disappeared in three minutes flat, as well as mushroom-sour cream dips and curried cauliflower. It was six days of adventure for my taste buds, but at the end, I found myself craving food from my own kitchen.

I wanted mashed potatoes, the way my mother makes them. Over-the-stove popcorn, doused in butter. Bean soup, with carrots, potatoes and onions. Sourdough bread with Swiss cheese and avocado slices. I wanted foods that comforted me.

In the end, I made saucy noodles. This is one of my favorite comfort foods because the sauce I make starts with the canned tomatoes out of my parent’s basement. They are one of the flavors of my childhood, the ultimate in familiarity. It’s strange that a flavor can mean I’m home, but it does.
Traveling is wonderful, especially when I can visit people I love, but I absolutely love coming home to my own kitchen.

Simple Saucy Noodles

1 package noodles

1 tablespoon butter

1 medium onion, chopped

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced

1 pint (2 cups) tomato sauce

½ teaspoon fresh parsley

black pepper to taste

Bring a pot of water to a boil for the noodles. I often add a dollop of oil to keep them from sticking and a bay leaf for flavor, but with this recipe neither is strictly necessary. I made egg noodles, but any kind of noodles work well. Proceed to cook according to the directions on the box.

Meanwhile, chop the onion into bite-sized pieces. In a saucepan, heat some butter or oil over medium heat. Sauté the onion until it is soft and sweet. At this stage, it should be somewhat transparent.

Slice the mushrooms, and add them to the onions. Once both are cooked to your satisfaction, add the tomato sauce. If the tomato sauce isn’t thick enough for your preference, add it a little earlier and let it boil down. I don’t recommend a high boil, but as long as it’s steaming, the sauce will thicken. Stir often to keep from burning.

Typically, I find the noodles are done while the tomato sauce is heating up. Mince the parsley and add it to the sauce, along with the black pepper.

Combine the sauce and the noodles. If the noodles have cooled down, sometimes they will fit in the pan with sauce for a moment to heat them up. When everything is the same temperature, and the flavors have a chance to get acquainted, take it off the stove. Enjoy!

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