My Six Travel Hacks

Between work and play, I end up travelling a lot.  This month, for example, I’m spending the equivalent of two-and-a-half weeks on the road, bumping between Singapore, Thailand, China, and Indonesia.  I’m jokingly calling it #aprilasia.

While San Francisco is the center of my life, good work and important relationships aren’t concentrated there alone.  Instead, life happens both in the Bay Area and also at a bunch of other complementary locations around the world.  For better or worse (and often, for both), travel has become a significant part of my life.

As I’ve hit the road more and more, here’s my list of realizations – from the pragmatic to the philosophical – of what has kept me sane:

Adjust my eating schedule first:  I’ve learned to focus on adjusting my eating schedule instead of worrying about my sleeping schedule.  If I start eating on my destination time zone before getting on the plane, I’m better able to avoid jet lag when I get there.  This means sacrificing the perceived value of plane food (which I tend to eat out of obligation and frugality rather than hunger), planning ahead to bring my own snacks on the road, and often forcing myself to eat when I don’t have any interest (i.e., it’s lunchtime here, but the middle of the night my time).  If I can fix my eating cycle, however, my sleep cycle follows.  I can’t make a watertight case for the science behind it (though I did do a bunch of jet lag research at some point), but it works.

Take advantage of gyms:  The challenge and time involving in getting up, getting dressed, relocating to the gym, battling for a machine, showering in a foreign place, and pre-packing the day’s outfit often provides a convenient and reasonable excuse why I don’t exercise on any given day at home.  When there’s a gym in the hotel, however, I lose that excuse.  I try (though the operative word is try) to work out more on the road because the facilities are far more accessible.

Set boundaries:  As travel has become more frequent I’ve realized that, at some point, I can’t just string obligations together.  After a few ‘mega-trips’ last year, I now aspire to schedule trips no longer than ten days.  Even if it means flying back-and-forth to break the trip up, it’s worth it for me.

Do just one local thing:  When I started travelling, the best piece of advice I got from a seasoned road warrior was this:  “Wherever you go, make sure you do one local thing.”  It could be anything:  going to drinks with a friend, taking two hours to wander around a museum, or walking through town on your way to work.  Sometimes it’s hard to convince myself that I have ‘permission’ to do this, especially if I’m travelling for work.  But the two hours that I spent at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center last week (a scale model of Shanghai!  a golden statue of the skyline!  ambition incarnate in display after lighted display!) made me better able to connect to understand Chinese development and also gave me some karmic comfort when I later found myself flying on Friday night. The trip became worthwhile in a bigger, more personal way.

shanghai
Acknowledge all parts of the truth
:  Friends often ask the question:  “Do you like to travel so much, or not?”  While it’s easy to fall into their proposed binary framing and either assert that “I love it!” or “I hate it!”, there’s often a more subtle truth.  For me, it’s important to acknowledge that travel is exciting, challenging, and exotic and also overwhelming, exhausting, and annoying – all at the same time.  I love the opportunities that come with travel, and I hate being dislocated from friends and family.  Acknowledging the full range of emotions that comes with travel – instead of glamorizing or demonizing it – helps to keep everything real.

Hold tight to gratitude:  Finally, it’s easy to fall into a world-weary mindset when I’m always on the road.  Travel can lose it’s charm and challenge.  And even the loveliest of destinations can go from being shiny, new, and delightful to being curiously familiar and even bothersome.  Whenever I stop seeing the amazing side of these experiences, I ground myself in gratitude. It is incredible that I get to develop such a broad perspective on life. It is incredible that I am able to feel at home in the world and connect to so many diverse people. Whatever the sacrifice, I can’t believe I’m deserving of all the places I go; I’m humbled by it.

Written while gearing up for a beach walk in Phuket,
Meredith

phuket

That Time I Was Uptrend: My Obsession With Kale

In between leaving work and starting graduate school I lived in Port Huron with my parents for a summer. In exchange for reinhabiting my bedroom, I offered to cook up a storm: an authentic Indian feast, homemade baba ghanoush, all sorts of Iron Chef-ed surprises. Among the dishes I tried was a beautiful minestrone recipe, complete with parmesan rind and bunches of kale. I remember lingering over the deep green curls in a rarely-visited corner of the Kroger produce section; with its chlorophyll coloring, sturdy stalks, and abundant foliage, it was the liveliest food I had ever seen.

I didn’t know what to do with it at the time, so I followed the instructions closely and chopped it into the soup. While my grandfather found this all a bit strange, I fell in love with it. I started putting it in everything: soups, stews, salads. I wrote a short cookbook of original kale recipes and published it online (you can find it here). I even started avoiding traditional salad bars that used kale as a garnish; I had become such a devotee that I could not stand to see all that kale wasted.

I am rarely stylish, but on this singular dimension, I am going to brag: It was 2007 and I was up-trend on kale.

In the early days, one of my favorite uses of kale was oven-baked kale chips. My approach was pure; I added only olive oil, salt, and a dash of red pepper flakes before sticking them in the oven to crisp up. Unfortunately, however, cooking kale chips in the oven was always a gamble. I lived in fear of my kale staying in a minute too long and becoming mildly blackened and far less appealing.

Now I am exploring new horizons of kale. Following the inspiration of many store-bought kale chips (which taste delicious but cost fistfuls of money), I came up with my own recipe for dehydrated kale chips. I’ve come a long way since the early days of experimentation in my parents’ oven; the below recipe requires strange equipment like a dehydrator. Further, seven years later, the California influences are apparent; I make use of strange yet delicious ingredients like nutritional yeast and almond milk. If you can get over the rampant hippie-ness of the recipe, however, it’s one of the best ways I’ve ever had kale: cheesy and crunchy but still full of green goodness.

With love (and health),
Meredith

Cheesy, Way-Too-Easy Kale Chips
Vegan, raw, gluten-free

Ingredients (someday I’ll actually measure the quantities):
A couple of bunches of dino kale (also known as Tuscan or lacinato kale)
Almond milk
Apple cider vinegar
Lemon juice
Hummus (optional)
Almond meal
Nutritional yeast
Smoked paprika
Garlic salt
Pepper
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Prep the kale:  Wash and dry your dino kale (two bunches?). Rip into chip-like pieces (approximately two inches by two inches).
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Prep wet ingredients:  Combine wet ingredients together in a large, shallow container. I typically include some combination of a lot of almond milk and water (maybe one cup each?) with a bit of lemon juice and apple cider vinegar to flavor (maybe two tablespoons each?). This time I also raided the fridge and found some leftover hummus which I mixed in as well. You’re looking for liquid to coat all your kale – and a bit extra that will soak into the leaves.

Add spices:  Add the spices to the wet ingredients. Start with garlic salt and pepper to taste (maybe ¼ to ½ teaspoon?). And then hold onto your seats for the real secret: smoked paprika. Put in a lot of smoked paprika (two or three tablespoons?).
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Prep dry ingredients:  Create a mix of dry ingredients. I throw together almond meal and nutritional yeast in the ratio of about 2:1 (maybe a cup of meal and ½ cup yeast?). Again, you’ll want enough to lightly coat all your kale.
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Coat the kale:  Soak the kale in the wet ingredients, massaging the kale lightly as if you were creating a kale salad. Then sprinkle with the dry ingredients. [You can take other approaches as well; it doesn’t really matter as long as the kale is covered with whatever deliciousness you want on it. I’ve also just mixed the kale, wet, and dry ingredients all together in a big bowl; it works fine, though the almond meal can distribute unevenly, especially if the surface your kale is particularly bumpy.]
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Dehydrate:  Lay the kale out on your dehydrator racks (I use an Excalibur and love it).
IMG_2247Dehydrate at approximate 110 degrees. You can certainly use a higher temperature, but keeping it under 120 degrees will qualify it as ‘raw’ food and keep the enzymes in your food alive (at least, that’s what the hippies say). Check periodically and rotate the trays. It should take approximately twelve hours for the chips to be crisp and delicious.

Your much-loved kale recipes?  Share in the comments below. 

Does This Dehydrator Make Me Look Cheap?

I spend a lot of my time thinking and writing about intentionality, this idea of mindfully and choicefully directing one’s life.  The thinking goes something like this:  Our thoughts and our actions – and indeed our entire impact on the world – reflect our underlying beliefs and values, both conscious and unconscious.  And yet, many people (myself included) do not always bring mindful awareness and conscious choice to these things.

While I celebrate the idea of intentionality, I (like everyone) can be completely caught off-guard by the ways I unconsciously act and the values they reflect.  This week I surprised myself again.  My realization?

I am way more frugal than I ever knew.

Case in point is the first twelve hours after returning home from this week’s work trip to London.  I came home, caught up with Liz, spent time with the puppy, ate some Goat Hill pizza (our favorite local pizza joint), and then…started sorting through the refrigerator.  It’s not that I was particularly hungry or even particularly bored and looking for something to do.  Instead, I knew that there was a lot of food in the house when I left and I wanted to make sure we weren’t letting much of it go to waste.

To Liz’s credit, she is easily as frugal as me.  Once, when in charge of organizing date night, Liz signed us up for a class on running a “zero-waste kitchen.”  They taught pickling for extra vegetables, cheese-making to address your nearly-expired milk, and broth-making for everything else.  Whereas others may have thought this would be a slightly strange romatnic interlude, I absolutely loved it.  We even got to make our own sauerkraut.

This past week, she had focused on eating up leftovers from last week’s camping adventure and working through the freezer.  So, to her credit, there wasn’t much to do.  Nonetheless, I pulled out my favorite new fruaglity enabler:  our new dehydrator.

Not yet twenty-four hours later, my dehydrating adventures have been prolific:

Leftover camping potatoes turned into crunchy parmesan potato bites:

potatoes

Previously pickled okra, jalapenos, and leftover corn have become “Liz Mix”:liz mixAnd more on the way:  peppers and garlic, mushrooms, jalapenos, carrots, and Brussels sprouts:
trayDespite all the time I spend thinking about how I want to consciously embody my chosen values, every so often something creeps up upon me.  And this fit of kitchen management proves exactly that.  Surveying my piles of dehydrated food, I thought:  “Wow, this whole thing has made me really happy.  I am way more frugal than I ever thought.  And I embody that without really ever thinking about it.”

I’ll be reflecting about the values I live while munching on my potato bites.

The Values You Eat

Between the Wedding Diet and my more recent approach to counting calories, I’ve obviously been thinking a lot about food.  Part of the point of The Wedding Diet was bringing consciousness to certain foods and figuring out how I reacted to cutting each one out.  But as I’ve moved past that approach, I’ve started to think less narrowly (i.e., what happens when this one thing goes away?) and more broadly (i.e., what happens when I eat anything?).  Physically, emotionally, and otherwise, what life do I create as I ingest each bite?

A good friend told me that “food is the place where we develop and exert our integrity.”  This is not just integrity in the sense of following through on our commitments – our ability to stick to a diet or maintain our veganism over time.  Beyond that, our food choices also reflect our integrity of living in alignment with who we are and what we value.  I, for example, variously value health, convenience, appearance, social connection, cultural experience, tradition, sustainability, and frugality when I decide what to eat.  Not all of those values are reflected in this morning’s espresso or my mid-day fried rice (real-life menu choices for today), but my choices are the more-or-less successful reflection of a constellation of values I strive to honor.

I am what I eat – from the molecules that make up my food to the values which my food reflects.

And you are too.  You can imagine that we all eat from a veritable pu pu platter of values every day.

values we eat
But here’s the thing about values.  You can’t honor all of them all the time.  It’s tough to find the afternoon snack which is at the same time frugal, healthy, and communicates your sense of adventure.  So we make trade-offs.  We give up some things to accommodate others.

I know that I won’t always be the perfect reflection of my values.  But my hope is that I can keep on consciously choosing what I eat.  I’ve learned over the past months that I don’t live better by excluding sugar or including dairy.  I’ve learned that I eat best when I eat consciously – conscious of not only the basic gastronomical dimensions of what and how much, but also the why and the how.

And with that, I am finishing defrosting the ratatouille – the most tangible manifestation of my values of health, appearance, and frugality you’ll see from me all day.

What values do you aspire to eat?  What values did you eat today?

With love,
Meredith