Vacation Eating: East Coast Edition

10 Apr

We only get to go to New Jersey to visit my husband’s family about once a year because it’s hard to budget for the airfare these days. But when we get there, it’s a whirlwind of house-hopping to see each of his FIVE brothers, his mother, his aunt and cousin, and our friends in the area, all set to the sounds of merengue, salsa, bachata, and hip hop, and the smells and tastes of Peru, Brazil, and Newark. It’s always an amazing time. I fell in love with Newark when I moved out there to go to college…and then I fell in love with my husband, whom I met there. His family moved to Newark when he was a little kid. Being from the west coast, it was a crazy culture shock at first

Newark bridge

A Newark bridge on a cold, overcast morning.

to move to Newark, but after the first week, I knew I’d found a new home. I spent nearly five years there before we decided to move to Los Angeles for a while. It’s an area that has a little bit of everything from nearly every part of the world…with a distinct New Jersey attitude about it. Plus, it’s only a 15-minute train ride from Manhattan, which is awesome, of course.

Newark sunny

Newark on a bright sunny day during our trip. Beautiful springtime.

I can imagine us moving back there someday, but LA is my home too, so we envision a life of living in several places in the future. As long as we’re together, home is where your heart is, right? Anyway, my point is that we have a blast when we go there. And a lot of the fun and visiting is centered around food, which is a terrific, bittersweet problem to have because everything tastes great but I’m trying not to eat too much. When you’re around family and on vacation, it can be extremely difficult to not over-indulge or even feel pressured by others to eat more, as I described in this previous post. For example, practically the first words out of my Peruvian mother-in-law’s mouth were, “Estas rellena. Toma, come,” which, loosely translated means she told me I looked like I had filled out (was a little heavier) than when she last saw me and then she told me to eat the huge plate of food she was handing me. She cracks me up. I love her to death and she’s an awesome M-I-L, but how am I supposed to eat after being told I look ready-to-have-babies heavy? Ha! Because she raised six boys, bless her heart, she typically overloads a plate for me–even if I tell her it’s too much, she insists I eat it–so sometimes, when my husband finishes his plate before me, I’ll switch my half-eaten plate with his empty plate when no one is looking. :) He happily eats more, I sit there happily stuffed.

I noticed a few general diet-saboteurs that occur when traveling:

1. It’s next to impossible to avoid needing to settle for fast food and junk food at some point when you’re on the road and options are limited; 2. It’s completely impossible to not overeat when visiting a big family, especially a South American one; 3. It’s hard to resist indulging in tasting all the yummy things in this different place that you don’t get at home. The thing that really saved me from coming home 10 pounds heavier was all the walking we did. LA is a car-oriented city;

Newark and New York have excellent subway systems.

Newark Penn Station

Newark Penn Station, the main station where you can catch a train to anywhere.

We walked to and from subway stops to many places we went. We also walked to and from some of his brothers’ houses, which are very close to his mother’s. I didn’t realize how much I missed all that walking until I was there and remembering how good it feels, especially in brisk, springtime air when all the cherry blossom trees are starting to bloom.

I kept food notes during the trip. Here’s how it played out:

Day 1: McDonald’s McSkillet burrito and a Coke at 5:30 a.m. at LAX, followed by a wheat bagel with cream cheese and a bottle of water at 11:00 a.m. at the Denver airport. We were in Newark by 4:00 p.m. and eating my M-I-L’s trigo for dinner at 7:00 p.m. Trigo, also known as trigo atamalado, is a hearty, comfort-food kind of meal from Peru. I love it so I had her show my how to make it and I’m looking forward to trying it soon. It can be made with chicken or beef but we had it with beef that night. The main ingredients are barley, potatoes, aji amarillo, some mixed veggies, garlic, onion, and some queso blanco/fresco. It all comes together in an almost stew-like form and is served over white rice. If I had three hours to soak some barley today, I’d make it right now, but I think we’ll have to wait til this weekend.

Day 2: Breakfast sandwiches–ham slice, fried egg, and American cheese on a French roll–at home. Papas a la Huancaina for lunch. Huancaina sauce is one of my favorite Peruvian dishes. It’s a light but spicy cheese-based sauce that is served over boiled potatoes. A little bit goes a long way, so it’s a good mini-meal. My M-I-L showed me how to make it too so I’m really happy to start making it at home. I’ll share recipes in separate posts after I practice them. We had Peruvian-style arroz con pollo with the family at home for dinner that night, which I already make on a regular basis for me and my husband. It’s a fabulous, reliable, go-to recipe centered around using a lot of cilantro. Later that night, we went out for beers with my cousin-in-law–the coolest chick on the east coast–and my husband’s close friend at a bar we used to go to all the time in college. It’s an Irish pub with a Cheers attitude. I love that place. Of course, after being out for a while, we started to get hungry for a snack on the way home. This was our first real just-because-we’re-on-vacation food stop: Chinese food at 12:30 a.m. Now, here’s the thing, my husband didn’t want to go there for the Chinese food, he wanted to go there for the chicken wings that he’d been craving for the past week in anticipation of the trip. You see, there are dozens of little Chinese restaurants and chicken shacks that stay open until 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. in Newark and they make the most delicious chicken wings in the Northeast. They’re horribly greasy and unhealthy, especially so late at night, but they’re sinfully good.

Day 3: At this point, we’d been up until after 2:00 a.m. each night visiting with family and adjusting to the time change. Our metabolism and sleep schedules were totally out of whack. I skipped breakfast and took the train over to Brooklyn to see my best friend and roommate from college.

Brooklyn cafe

A cafe in Brooklyn where we had coffee and lunch.

It felt so great to be walking everywhere, even when I did get winded on the third flight of stairs at one subway station.

She met me at the station in Brooklyn and we walked to a cafe for cappuccinos and lunch. We were talking so much and having such a great time. I only ate half of my chicken wrap and salad. We walked to her house and had some great quality time together before going back to the train station. That night, my husband and I went out with friends for Brazilian-style rodizio and caipirinhas, our favorite drink in Newark, especially in the famous Brazilian-Portuguese district known as the Ironbound, next to Newark Penn Station. Rodizio, if you’ve never been, is a real treat–a Brazilian smorgasbord of different meats brought to your table on skewers along with a buffet of side dishes. It’s amazing. It’s also a place where you check your will power at the door. We had chicken, bacon-wrapped turkey, tenderloin pork and beef, beef ribs, rice, beans, fried plantains, and roasted vegetables. I did, however, resist eating any potatoes or bread, which made me feel a tiny bit better about myself. ;)

Day 4: Breakfast at a popular diner with a different brother, his significant other, my husband, and M-I-L. We were all going to attend the Sweet 16 party for my husband’s eldest niece (and goddaughter) that night (the party doubled as a mini family reunion), and since I knew there’d be a lot of food, I thought I’d go for a light breakfast. I dropped the idea of ordering fried eggs, hash browns, etc., and opted for a small breakfast wrap of scrambled eggs, provolone, turkey bacon, and avocado. The menu only stated those ingredients. Unfortunately, the scrambled eggs were so full of the overpowering taste of large chunks of onion and green bell pepper that I could hardly taste anything else. I didn’t eat much of it. There wasn’t time to worry about that though because we had a day full of church, shopping, professional family photos, and setting up for the party at the dance hall. It was a terrific event with lots of people having fun.

My ridiculous plate of food from the buffet at the family party.

There were laser lights, a good DJ, club-like atmosphere, kid-friendly fun, and a buffet of at least three kinds of rice, four kinds of meat, and several other trays of excellent Peruvian-American food. There was arroz con pollo, papas a la huancaina, beef, fish, shrimp, beans, fries, pasta, plus a chocolate fondue fountain and candy. I was so glad to be dancing so much that night. Salsa, merengue, bachata, booty-shaking, etc. We really burned off a lot of calories! We didn’t get home until almost 2:00 a.m. My husband opened the fridge and found that someone had dropped off fried chicken and fries from another old favorite place. Yes, we indulged, again.

Day 5: We woke, groggy and sore, to the sweet surprise that one of my brothers-in-law had picked up tamales from a nearby Peruvian restaurant for breakfast. Peruvian tamales are probably my favorite style of tamale, although I can’t say I’ve ever tasted a tamale that I didn’t like. Peruvian tamales have a slightly larger grain texture and are sometimes more spicy than tamales I’ve had from other styles of Central and South American cooking. Such a great breakfast food! Lots of protein. We only had a few hours before our flight home so we made the most of it bouncing between the family members’ houses to say goodbye to all eleven nephews and nieces. It was sad to say goodbye so soon but we were so happy to have been there and had such a great time. I love my in-laws so much. We skipped lunch and headed straight to the airport where we had to rush to our flight due to a plane change issue (weather and route related issues, not mechanical trouble, thank goodness). Peanuts and Ritz cheesy crackers on the plane. A disappointing chicken burrito followed by a really good Bloody Maria (tequila instead of vodka) at the Chicago airport. And then home! My mom picked us up from LAX and took us home and we feel asleep faster than you can say, “Home, sweet home!” :)

Now that we’ve been home for about a week, we’ve settled back into our routine and our bodies have caught up to being back on a  normal sleeping schedule, which definitely affects one’s metabolism. And I’m also happy to be home because, as much as I love to travel, I love our home, and I missed Vita, and our cat. I’ll keep you all posted on these Peruvian recipes I’m trying. I’d love to hear from you about how you battle cravings and over-indulging while on vacation. Please share in the comments section!


5 Responses to “Vacation Eating: East Coast Edition”

  1. April April 10, 2012 at 9:47 am #

    Your MIL sounds amazing! Love hearing that you all get along so well :)

    • Diet Drop April 10, 2012 at 9:52 am #

      Thanks, April. She is an incredible woman and I know I lucked out with such a kind M-I-L (my husband got a great M-I-L too, lol!). Have a great day and thanks for reading! –Michelle


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