Big Holidays are perhaps the most loaded with meaning during those times in life when you don't have family or a community nearby. That was the case for me, one year, when I was living in the remote ski resort town of Mammoth Lakes, California.
I was expecting to work on Christmas Day, but at 4 o'clock on Christmas Eve, my boss had a change of heart and waved me off, " Merry Christmas! Take the day off!" With Tioga Pass — the main east-west route from the Bay Area, through Yosemite, to the Eastern Sierra — closed for the winter, the drive home to see my family would take a prohibitive 12 hours. But the trek to my boyfriend (now husband) and his family in southern California was a mere five hours. Quickly, I packed my bag and jumped in the car.
Photo from Schat's Bakkery website
Driving south on U.S. 395, the last major "town" between Mammoth Lakes and the L.A. Basin is Bishop, known for trout fishing, Mule Days, and Schat's Bakkery — a family run Dutch bakery housed in a Hansel and Gretel building . There, I managed sneak past the closing doors and pick up one of their last Stollens, so I wouldn't show up at my future in-laws completely empty handed.
Pre-holiday traffic can be formidable, but you know what's even more disconcerting? The eerily abandoned highway of the actual holiday. Highway 395 follows the Owens River through the high desert of the Eastern Sierra Nevadas. It is rugged sagebrush country, punctuated only occasionally with tiny towns like Big Pine and Lone Pine (whose Alabama Hills are the backdrop of nearly every Hollywood cowboy movie). There is Manzanar, one of the sites used to intern Japanese Americans during World War II. Only an old guard shack remains to remind of us its ugly history. What the 395 lacks in built environment, it more than makes up for in natural splendor. Towering over the southern end of the corridor is Mount Whitney, the tallest point in the contiguous 48 states. Nearby lies the Owens Dry Lake, an alkali dustbowl left behind by the funneling of the Owens River to the City of Los Angeles.
As interesting as these way points are, they do nothing to address the grumbling in one's stomach. In the mid-1990s, U.S.395 was one of the few arteries in the country yet un-colonized by Starbucks or McDonald's. Charming as they may be, the local watering holes — with their flickering neon signs — didn't look to be good dining spots for a single woman travelling alone at night.
I drove for hours, me and my grumbling stomach, until the town of Ridgecrest, where among the mid-century rocket launching modernity, there was an AM/PM. Mmm, hamburgers warming on rotating metal bars! I plunked down my 59-cents and scarfed it down on the last leg of my journey.
When travelling, the journey should be part of the fun — including enjoying the local flavors. But as I learned from my holiday drive down 395, that isn't always possible or prudent. In the years since then, I've developed a couple of guiding philosohies:
1. Don't travel on an empty stomach. Driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic or untying your shoes in front of strangers for the fifth time in a day are irritating enough, without low blood sugar contributing to your low patience. Even if the road you are travelling is paved with Cinnabons and In-n-Out Burgers, pack something (even if it's just some granola bars or nuts) for the journey!
2. Don't leave a refrigerator full of food to rot while you're away. The worst part of most trips is coming home. What's even worse is coming home to a refrigerator that smells like a compost bin. Avoid stocking up on groceries before a vacation, and try to use up what you have on the way out.
My solution: the pre-Thanksgiving wrap, two variations. They use up ingredients I often have lying around the kitchen — deli turkey slices, leftover rotisserie chicken, tortillas, apples, salad mix — with the help of a few holiday themed accoutrements.
Turkey and Cranberry Wrap
1 tortilla, flatbread or Lahvosh
Deli turkey slices
Cream cheese, or other spreadable cheese (I used Chevre)
Salad Mix, lettuce, sprouts or shreds of whatever vegetables are in your produce bin
1. Spread tortilla with cheese
2. Layer with turkey slices, leaving the last few inches bare
3. Add a few dollops of cranberry sauce
4.Lay the greems in a row near the end of the tortilla which is covered with turkey.
5. Tightly roll it up, moistening the bare end of the tortilla with a little water or cream cheese.
6. Seal the whole thing in plastic wrap and remember to take it with you!
Chicken Salad Wrap
Photo taken with my simple point and shoot camera, set on macro mode
(usually indicated by the flower or leaf icon)
1 tortilla, flatbread or Lahvosh
Shredded rotisserie chicken
1/2 Diced apple
A handful of raisins
Salad Mix, lettuce, sprouts, etc.
1. Mix chicken, apple and raisins with mayonnaise to suit your taste.
2. Spread the mixture over half of the tortilla.
3. Add greens in a row near the edge of the tortilla covered with chicken salad.
4. Roll and moisten with a little water or mayonnaise to seal.
5. Wrap, pack and go!
Don't forget to throw in some fruits and cut up veggies. Sweet potato chips are also a festive snack to get you in the holiday spirit.
All text and images, unless otherwise noted ©2010 Grace Hwang Lynch