How I Stay Healthy While Traveling: Homemade Cereal Bars

I travel a lot with my work. It’s a wonderful privilege to be able to see different parts of Guatemala, and to help guide foreigners through new encounters in which they can experience the beauty and tragedy of Guatemala. I feel honored to share with fellow gringos this country that I love so much.

Nevertheless, traveling is exhausting. I miss my bed, my shower, my kitchen. I just cannot rest the same as in my own home. And while I enjoy eating out every once in a while, the healthy options are far and few between when I travel with groups in Guatemala. Traditional Guatemalan cooking uses lots of lard, including in their tamales and beans. Vegetables are uncommon or unsafe to eat. Breakfast is usually eggs and beans with tortillas and coffee. Very little fresh fruit. Lunch (on the worksite) is pb&j sandwiches, a hardboiled egg, and an apple or squished banana if we’re lucky. Dinner can vary, but its generally grilled chicken or meat, rice or potatoes, and sometimes an iceberg salad smothered in thousand island dressing (not my preferred vegetable). It’s not my idea of a balanced died, which is something I consider important in my daily life. There is too much protein, too much animal fat, and too few fruits and vegetables. If I’m with groups for longer than a few days I begin to feel sluggish, cranky, and to be honest my digestive system is not too happy with how its been treated.

To help counter this, I began taking my own granola bars so I could take back a sense of control over my diet while I travel. I normally forego the eggs and beans in the morning, or the sandwich at lunch, and stick with something I know is balanced and healthy. At least I can start my day in a way that I feel good about…even if I have little control over the rest of it.

Maybe some of you are in a similar situation. But even if not, this is a healthy, balanced bar that is easy to take anywhere: work, school, road trips, or to just have as a snack on hand. You can use whatever type of cereal you want as a base. I use All-bran because its what I would normally eat at home, and that is essentially my goal: maintain the level of nutrition I am able to enjoy at home.

Cereal Bars

Ingredients:
4 cups cereal of choice (if oats, toast first in the oven until golden)*
1/2 cup wheat bran, toasted
3/4 cup mixed nuts and seeds of choice (pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts, peanuts, flax), toasted
3/4 cup dried, unsweeted fruit (cranberries, raisins, minced dates or figs, coconut, ginger)
1 t ginger
1 t cinnamon
1 t anise extract (or almond, or vanilla)
pinch of salt
1 egg (or 2 whites)
1/4 cup honey** (or brown sugar)
2 T brown sugar
1/4 cup natural peanut butter

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 325ºF
2. Beat egg white until light and fluffy. Add sugar, honey, peanut butter, spices, salt, and extract. Beat until smooth. Stir in nuts and dried fruits until covered. Stir in cereal, and finally wheat bran.
3. Spread mixture evenly in parchment-lined baking sheet, about 1/2 – 3/4″ deep. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until firm and set. Allow to cool completely. Using serrated knife, cut into bars. Store in fridge.

*if you wish, substitute some of the cereal for additional seeds, fruits, and nuts. this is just the balance I prefer for my traveling days. The types of dry ingredients can be played around with quite a bit to achieve the bar you need.
**sugar will make a crunchier bar while honey will made a chewier bar

Sangria

I’m really big on customer service. I don’t mean that I need people surrounding me all the time, filling my glass of water after every sip, and folding my napkin across my lab when I return from the bathroom. I find that awkward actually. But its nice when you really enjoy a place not only for the food but also for the staff.

We once were patrons of Romano’s pizza, but they ruined a trust we had spent over a year building. We went almost every Thursday. When we would enter the restaurant there would be a bottle of our favorite wine waiting for us at our regular table. One night last summer, after ordering our usual, Elmer brings us the check. The price of the bottle had increased almost doubled, yet we were not informed. We expressed our disappointment that he didn’t at least inform us of the change before opening the bottle. We haven’t returned since. (We’re good at grudges).

La Boqueria de Barcelona Viva has in some ways replaced Romanos. While we can’t afford to go there as frequently, it holds a special spot in our heart, mainly because of Oscar, our waiter. We went to La Boqueria for the first time last year for my birthday. Actually the day after my birthday, because on my actual birthday I had to work. (And it was a Saturday. Yes I’m still bitter.) So Hec took me out the next day. Oscar waited on us, bringing us complementary pan tumaca, made some recommendations on his favorite menu items, and didn’t bother us every second asking if we wanted to order something else when we just came for the sangria and marinated mushrooms. Since this first wonderful expereince, we continued to come back. Usually just for the sangria and pan tumaca, although on special occasions we’ll order the lechón, paté (for Héc, not me!), or one of their unique desserts such as pears in cognac. But even though we don’t always spend $50 (usually its well under $20), Oscar greets us with a huge smile, is glad to see us, and even gives away little cooking tips. He told us what was in the sangria, and also how to prepare pan tumaca. At another Spanish restaurant we visited (thinking it was the same everywhere) we asked the waiter how they prepare the sangria (we didn’t want to pay a lot for wine-flavored juice). “Sorry,” he told us, “it’s a secret of the house”. Which to us meant it was boxed cooking wine with grape juice and sliced up apples and oranges. And thats certainly what it tasted like. We had to order another cup of wine to mix in to the pitcher to take the edge off the sweetness.

When we asked Oscar if the sangria was sweet, he basically recited the recipe, verifying for us that it was not just grape juice. He told us the liquors used, approximate amounts, and the fruit juices. I was surprised, to be honest. We went home immediately and experimented. While it is never the same as at La Boqueria, it is always good…sometimes even better that at the restaurant.

Now Sangria is not an exact science, although I would say it can be an art. (Asá). Use the things you like, and it will turn out delicious. Thats all we do. If you want it light, use less alcohol, add some sparkling water. If you want it heavy, up the brandy and gin. Go white, go red. If you just have rum and nothing else, go for that too. This is what Oscar told us, and this is generally how we base our recipe:

Oscar’s Sangria

Ingredients:
1 bottle wine (we just use a cheap drinkable something red).
2 oz brandy
2 oz gin
1/2 to 1 cup juice (orange or pear are yummy)
1 cup diced fruit (citruses are great, ripe pears, berries, ect)
1/2 lime, sliced

Directions:
Mix all together and let sit at least over night. Sometimes we let it sit a couple days. The fruit really absorbs the wine, and makes a nice snack at the end of the pitcher.