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When in Rome, Right?


Not to gloat, but I’m on vacation. Right now I am in a cabin surrounded by miles of empty sky, an amazing river, and about 15 friends and family members (including an army of kids and dogs). It’s really, really great here, and remote enough that there’s no cell service. Alas, a couple years ago we got WiFi, so here I am blogging when I could be fishing or sitting on the deck watching Sandhill Cranes in the meadow. But, in the spirit of keeping my vacation a true — AKA unplugged — vacation, I will keep this brief.

My view at the moment. Not too shabby.

One thing that’s tricky about being a little obsessed with food is it can be hard to let go when we’re away from home (and Whole Foods). I have a hard time with things like Western Family milk and Hormel canned meats but also get that this is definitely not the time or place to be high-maintenance about food. So, I do what I can and then relax and enjoy the occasional Chips Ahoy (at least the Western Family milk is growth-hormone free; believe me, I checked) — and Lit’l Smokies.

For anyone heading to someplace remote or otherwise food-challenged for more than a day or two, here are some suggestions to minimize the eating-related grimness.

  • Take a tip from a friend who’s even more fanatical about natural foods than I am (and much more organized) and google health food stores near where you’ll be staying. Say, for example, you are going to be vacationing along the Madison River in southwestern Montana, you can stop into Montana Natural Foods in Bozeman before leaving civilization behind. While you probably don’t want to stock the industrial-sized refrigerator at stores like this, you can at least get some non-Dannon yogurt, natural peanut butter, whole grain bread, and decent coffee.
  • If, like us, you’re road tripping, definitely fill your cooler with (frozen) meats from home. We brought 9 lbs. of wild salmon (which my spouse had just brought back from Alaska), a pound of wild game burger (in addition to being a fisherman, my husband is an “eat only what I kill-atarian” when it comes to meat, but that’s the subject for another post), and some natural elk brats.
  • Another thing you can do if you’re driving is stop at roadside produce stands, which usually have much fresher fruits and veggies than the local Food Farm.
  • Keep it local. This is a good chance to try things you might not be able to get at home. Plus, chances are, if something is a local specialty, it will be made with pride in a more artisanal manner than, say, Oscar Meyer. So even if grass-fed buffalo jerky doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, if you happen to be passing through Ennis, Montana, stop in Restvedt’s meats and pick up a pound.
  • Keep it (relatively) fresh. Even it you’re shopping in mini marts, if you stick with the fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, milk, and other ingredients, you’ll be eating better than most people in America most of the time (sad but true I think). Just because you’re on vacation is no reason to start eating piles of processed food (Lit’l Smokies notwithstanding). Trust me, Hamburger Helper is no easier than the killer one-pan wild game ragu we made last night.

Just in case you don’t trust me, here’s the recipe:

1 lb. ground meat (preferably grass fed beef, buffalo, or wild game)

1 pint mushrooms (or more), thinly sliced

½ onion, chopped

1-2 garlic cloves, chopped

Extra virgin olive oil

5 lbs. tomatoes, chopped (you can also use tomato paste, canned diced tomatoes, or a combination)

Spaghetti (enough to feed your crew, we used 2 lbs.!)

Parmesan cheese, shredded (or the grated kind in the green can if that’s all you can find)

Brown the meat in a large skillet. Add the onions and garlic when the meat is just turning brown (not pink). If you use the lean meat I suggested in the ingredients, you won’t have much excess grease; if you need to, though, drain the grease before adding onions and garlic. We actually had to add a little olive oil because the meat was so lean there wasn’t enough fat to sautée the veggies! Add the mushrooms and sautée until well done. Add the tomatoes, simmer until it’s “sauce-like” but still chunky. Add some salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. I like a little red pepper, too.

For dessert, we had a wild Huckleberry pie (another Montana specialty) from the bakery in town – not to mention a cookie jar stocked with Chips Ahoys.

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This post has 3 comments

  • GJo says:

    Your Dad and I are envious (but happy for you, David and the kids!)! What could be better than eating wild game ragu while overlooking the Madison except maybe eating Salad Nicoise (not traditional, but my own recipe of veggies from the garden served on top a bed of freshly picked lettuce) while overlooking Jughandle Mountain and Lake Fork Creek? We’re also envious envious of the Huckleberry Pie since we read an article in the local paper this evening about our season producing very slim pickins! You might have to settle for Blackberry or some other kind of jam this year. Wish you were here (or vice versa) to share some wonderful, fresh produce of the season!

  • lucy wallace says:

    I am amazed about the info on healthy food in Montana!!!I’ve been there
    [on the Madison River in Montana }and I just assumed you had to eat
    potato chips and processed packaged meat!Hooray for the Food Evangelist!
    Grilled trout is pretty good too!! Lucybethw

  • Barb says:

    Love how you laid this out in such an easy way for us. I want you to know that it lead me to do a little research about stores, per your suggestion, in a place we are traveling to in a few months. What a simple, but very brilliant idea, especially since I’m now needing to eat gluten, dairy-free! Thanks.

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