Tag Archives: montana

Road trip salads (and picnics, of course)

Once again, we took a road trip to Eastern Montana in July and I was determined to be prepared with food. We’re not terribly picky eaters, but we don’t eat much meat and we prefer lots of fresh fruits and vegetables — a difficult situation for this part of the country.

Well, this time, in addition to stocking the car with cooking supplies for motel cooking (including the electric kettle and a large supply of bulgur) and picnics, as I’ve written about in this blog the past couple summers, I brought along my salad spinner.

I was so glad I did, because every day of this trip was HOT (in Miles City, a bank thermometer read 111 degrees one day) and we were often eating salads or fresh fruit (washed in the spinner) accompanied by bread.

Salad for dinner at the Stardust Motel, Wallace, Idaho

I love a simple oil-lemon dressing on our salads, so I brought olive oil, lots of lemons (when I ran out, I could find more, even in the remotest town) and salt. Also a little pecorino to sometimes grate on top. And yes, I brought my lemon reamer and a zester, which I used for grating.

A couple of times I did make a bulgur salad with garbanzo beans and whatever fresh vegetables I could find.

One day I was really glad I had some leftover salad in the little ice chest because we were stopped for road construction for about 20 minutes — right at lunch time! It wasn’t exactly a picnic environment, but that salad did hit the spot!

But a salad can be pretty lonely without good bread. (If you’re going through Missoula, be sure to stop at Le Petit Outre.) Between good bakeries, we relied on our supply of Ak-Maks and other crackers.

Okay, it’s nice to have a knife and a cutting board, and even (if you want to get fancy) some pretty cloths to put on a picnic table. Yes, it does require some preparation, but it’s so worth it.

I remember road trips with my parents, where we would stop at shady parks for lunch, which often consisted of sandwiches with cream cheese and grapes — which we children loved. On our recent trip, at a forested rest stop in Idaho, we saw a Japanese family with three generations enjoying a huge picnic, including miso soup and hot noodles.

Whatever your food preferences are–even if it’s takeout– as always, my motto is: Whenever possible, make it a picnic!

1 Comment

Filed under bread and pizza, fruit, salad, summer, Uncategorized, vegetables

Picnics (and more) on the road

Picnic in Wilbur, Washington

We recently returned from yet another great road trip to Montana. We’re not big meat eaters, so dining out is always a challenge in the interior West. As an alternative (and an economical one too), we ate a lot of picnics on the road.

A windy picnic along Highway 12, between Miles City and Baker, Montana

Here’s what we were eating (along with some dust):

The multi-grain bread, from a bakery in Miles City, Montana, was terrific

Our picnics were pretty basic: bread and cheese, sometimes some green onions, cucumber or carrots, and fresh fruit. But they were good and relatively healthy. The challenge was to find good bread and fruit. In light of that, I came up with a couple of rules for the road:

1. Never pass up a good bakery (you may need to search for one)

Le Petit Outre bakery, Missoula, Montana

Focaccia from Missoula made a great accompaniment to salad in our motel room in Davenport, Wash. on the return trip.

2. Never pass up a fruit stand or farmers’ market.

A great fruit stand in orchard country, Orondo, Washington

Missoula has a wonderful farmers' market on Saturdays. My friend Kathy also recommends the Livingston farmers' market on Wednesday afternoons.

I did a lot less cooking than last year’s motel cooking extravaganza, but I still brought along the important supplies: electric tea kettle, cutting board, knife, can opener, lemon reamer, bulgur, olive oil and salt, which resulted in some nice salad dressings (my basic lemon, olive oil and salt dressing is good on nearly everything) and a couple of bulgur-vegetable salads.

Bulgur salad with plenty of vegetables (along with bread from Anjou Bakery in Cashmere, Wash.) was a good change from the bread & cheese combo.

Our picnics often took place outside a motel room.

Beer before dinner at the Stardust Motel in Wallace, Idaho

I put together this meal of bulgur salad and tuna in the "rustic" Highlander Motel in White Sulfur Springs (W.S.S.), Montana.

We tried eating outside the motel room, until the mosquitoes emerged.

As for eating out, a couple times we indulged in a milk shake as a meal replacement.

Chocolate-espresso shake at Butterfly Herb, Missoula

Steve particularly likes going out to breakfast, but after some disappointing breakfasts at promising-looking cafes, I came up with a guideline for telling when a place might be most likely to fulfill that promise: If a cafe offers hash browns or home fries made from scratch, rather than slabs of processed frozen spuds, there’s a better chance of a good breakfast.

(Apparently the phrase “home cooking” these days includes a lot of processed foods, so it’s not a good indicator.)

The Dizzy Diner in Terry, Montana, used frozen hash browns, but Steve liked his breakfast anyway. I only had a cup of coffee here.

The Corner Cafe in Creston, Washington, makes their hash browns from scratch. I complimented the cook.

In regard to breakfast, another aspect that helped me out was bringing along a good stash of homemade granola.

On the way home, we stopped again at that fruit stand in Orondo, Wash.

We bought cherries and apricots. And honey.

Breakfast at home the next day was mighty good too!


p.s. Some places it’s easier to find good picnic food — I really like this post about picnics in Europe.


Filed under bread and pizza, breakfast, fruit, musings, summer, Uncategorized

Road trip kitchen

Stardust Motel, Wallace, Idaho

So, here we were, all set for a great road trip through the West, from Bellingham, Washington, to Eastern Montana.

No, we weren’t camping out; we were staying in motels, and we found lots of great old-fashioned motels–many of them very spacious, often with refrigerator and microwave–costing $60 a night and under. Many of them also had wonderful nostalgic signs, like the one above.

On the road near Moses Coulee, Washington

Swell sign, but I wouldn't recommend this motel in Harlowton, Montana.

The only thing I was worried about was the food situation.

Sure, there were plenty of cute signs for cafes and burger joints — but not much that I could tolerate eating, certainly not day after day.  Beyond burgers and fries, some cafes offered specialty foods such as fried “prairie oysters”– i.e., bull testicles. No thank you.

We split a milkshake here at Billy Burgers, Davenport, Wash.

Fortunately, I had packed my Honda Fit with the supplies needed for some basic food preparation on the road.

The basics: classic picnic basket and a small cooler

The little orange cooler I bought at Target was perfect for keeping a pint of milk, some cheese and a couple containers of salad, fruit or vegetables…. I had one of those little hard plastic freezer-packs that I used whenever our motel room had a refrigerator (a surprising number of them did), and a Ziploc bag for putting ice from a motel ice bucket when there wasn’t a fridge. Some silverware, a sharp knife and a small cutting board all fit into the cooler’s pockets….

We were ready for Montana!

Melon chunks were great for snack or breakfast

Since we didn’t take an airplane, we didn’t have to worry about taking a sharp knife along. That made it possible to cut melons and other in-season fruits and vegetables available (if not always in prime condition) in central and eastern Montana.

Cantaloupe and cottage cheese looked good in blue enamel dishes I bought in Harlowton, Montana, for a couple bucks each.

If you ever find a good bakery on the road (it's rare), snap up that bread! This delicious loaf was purchased at Le Petit Outre in Missoula and eaten in Helena, Mont.

You can "cook" some foods without a kitchenette if you bring an electric tea kettle....and you won't be breaking motel rules.

The brightest idea I had was to bring along our electric tea kettle. It’s the perfect choice for the do-it-yourself motel kitchen.

I also took a bag full of  uncooked bulgur. When I wanted to make a salad, I put some in a glass container, poured about 1 1/2 times the amount of boiling  water over it and covered the mixture for about 20 minutes.  I also brought some olive oil, a lemon reamer and Microplane zester for ease of squeezing lemon juice and grating zest, some cans of organic garbanzo beans, salt and pepper.

That was the basis of the bulgur-bean salad with olive oil/lemon dressing. Then I just added chopped vegetables: tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, red peppers, etc. In the above photo, I “cooked” broccoli by cutting it into small pieces and pouring boiling water over it in a glass container. It worked!

Roundup, Montana

Thanks to that electric kettle and the ingredients brought from home, we had a pretty darn good dinner at the Big Sky Motel in Roundup.

The Ak-Mak crackers (I brought a big supply) made up for the lack of good bread at this point. Steve wants you to know that these crackers come from Sanger, California.

They filmed part of "The Horse Whisperer" at the Lazy J Motel in Big Timber, Montana.

There was a nice picnic table at the Lazy J, but too many mosquitoes to enjoy eating outside.

Altering the vegetables gave a little variety. The one pictured above had chopped fresh greens, green onions and tomatoes.

This is why they call it "Big Sky Country"

Honestly, this road trip wasn’t only about bulgur salads and motel signs….

Gates of the Mountains, on the Wild and Scenic Missouri, where Lewis and Clark came in July, 1806

Archie Bray Foundation ceramics center, Helena, Montana

4th of July rodeo, Harlowton, Montana

Badlands and grasslands between Circle and Fort Peck, Montana

Badlands, Makoshika State Park, Glendive, Montana

Western decor in the Kempton Hotel, Terry, Montana

Cemetery above Anaconda, Montana

Granite County jail (still used), Philipsburg, Montana

Near the end of the trip, we even ventured out for some meals.

Steve devours the "Middle Man breakfast" and a cup of mud at the Dizzy Diner, Terry, Montana

Steve was very content with his breakfast, but I wasn’t too happy with mine. They wouldn’t make a poached egg, so there was a greasy fried one; the hash browns came from the freezer, the decaf coffee was watery and tasteless, the toast was bland bread with icky margarine. Ugh. Steve says I’m too picky. I guess so.

Later, a woman in a shop in town informed us that we should try the omelets in the same cafe.

“They crack and stir the eggs themselves,” she said.

Huh? What did they usually do?  Use powdered eggs or eggs in a carton?

The Badlands Cafe, Terry, Montana

We did enjoy The Badlands Cafe, though, where you could actually get a pretty nice salad with grilled chicken, along with a piece of garlic toast.

Another salad for the road

I was kind of glad to get back to the bulgur salads. A little tedious maybe, but at least I could count on them.

Palouse country, near Oakesdale, Washington

From Steptoe Butte, near Oakesdale, Washington

Salad again, picnic at Steptoe Battlefield, Rosalia, Washington -- no mosquitoes!

A very nice motel (and a bargain at $53.50) in Colfax, Washington

We spent our last motel night at the Siesta Motel. We’ve been home almost a week now, and I haven’t wanted to come near a bulgur salad yet.  (The first day back, we had salmon, corn-on-the cob, and green beans for supper. Yum.)

But I have to say, I’m grateful to the bulgur and garbanzo beans and the motel cooking. It saved the day on this wonderful road trip, letting us appreciate everything that IS great about Eastern Montana .

Placemat in one of the historic rooms at the Upper Musselshell Museum, Harlowton, Montana.

Happy trails!


Filed under fruit, musings, salad, summer, Uncategorized