Growing up, my family went on economical family vacations. We lived in Utah, and took advantage of the many national parks within driving distance, and we drove down to Disneyland exactly twice, staying with my mom’s sister, who lived in North Hollywood, and later in San Diego, both times. Even if we’d had more money, I’m sure my parents probably would have planned the same kind of vacations. After all, staying in a hotel with a few kids is not only expensive, it’s a pain! We have yet to travel with both kids, but have stayed in several hotels with Sous Chef, and I can already tell it’s going to be one of the most excruciating aspects of traveling with children. We once went to Milwaukee for a family wedding and stayed at a Hyatt, where we were able to take advantage of a family and friends rate. We requested a crib, and luckily, we were delivered a Graco Pack and play. My sister-in-law, who also requested a crib, didn’t fare so well. She received a rickety old metal crib that looked like it came out of a hospital circa 1950. Who knows how clean either of these options were, and I swore right then that I would never take a crib-aged child to a hotel without bringing my own pack and play. The last trip we took with Sous Chef was when she was about 2 and 1/2 and we deliberately moved her from her crib to a big-girl bed before we left so we could put her in a queen bed instead of in a questionable hotel crib.
Since our family mostly camped, and always drove, my mom always prepared lots of food to take with us. We’d have picnic lunches on the drive and plenty of snacks for our destination so that we never needed to succumb to the inflated prices at a gas station. To this day, I can hardly stand even considering purchasing food at a gas station. I have very vivid memories of eating barely cool squares of cheese with Toasted crackers in the back of an old minivan, the cheese squares stuck together because my mom had cut the slices into smaller squares in a stack. My mom and I have both always been snackers, which I know will eventually catch up with me. I didn’t realize that other people didn’t pack food for road trips until I took a road trip with my husband and his parents to visit his sister and her family. At the time, we lived in LA near his parents and his sister lived in Phoenix. I dutifully prepared by purchasing crackers, red vines, string cheese, and grapes. I baked cookies. I packaged them into sandwich bags and put them in a cooler. And about 2 hours into the drive, I pulled something out and offered it to everyone. Not one person wanted to eat it. Instead, they exited the freeway a bit later and pulled into a Carl’s Jr. for “dinner.”
Even if others don’t share my love of snacking and abhorrence for gas station food and fast food, I continue to prepare for vacations by packing snacks. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried to make them healthier options, especially with kids. One unhealthy thing that makes it into the list always, though, is a batch of biscotti. What’s great about biscotti is that they are durable. They don’t get stale because they’re so crisp, and they don’t crumble like other cookies. They are the perfect travel treat. Add that to the fact that they don’t have as much fat as other cookies and you’ve got yourself a winner. I bake these before every vacation we take, and if I’m lucky, there’s a couple left for the flight home. They are addictive enough that they usually don’t make it that far. These are perfect travel companions, but don’t wait until your next trip to make them. They are a perfect snack to keep around.
Cherry Almond Chocolate Biscotti
adapted from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup orange juice
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup sugar
zest of one orange
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 tablespoon almond extract
1 3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Combine the cherries and orange juice in a small saucepan over low heat. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat and cover. Let the cherries reconstitute in the orange juice while you make the dough, about ten minutes.
In the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, sugar, zest, and salt until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs and mix well, scraping down the sides occasionally. Add the vanilla and almond extract and mix.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Add to the butter mixture in three batches, scraping the sides in between.
Drain the cherries, discarding the juice (or refrigerating it–try adding it to club soda!). Add the cherries, almonds, and chocolate chips to the dough and stir well.
Turn the dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Form the dough into a flattened circle and refrigerate for about an hour, until it is firm.
Once the dough is firm, lightly flour a counter and preheat the oven to 350. Divide the dough in a half, and working with one piece at a time, roll each half into a log about 14 inches long. Flatten slightly, so the piece is about 14 inches long and 2 inches wide, using flour as necessary. The logs will spread in the oven. Place the logs about 4 inches apart on the cookie sheet lined with a clean sheet of parchment.
Bake the logs for about 30 minutes, until they turn slightly firm and lightly golden. Remove to a wire rack to cool briefly. Turn the oven down to 275.
When the logs are cool enough to handle, but still warm, about 5 minutes, move them to a cutting board. With a serrated knife, score the top on a 45-degree angle at 3/4 inch intervals. After scoring, use a chef’s knife to cut the biscotti, using a single downward motion.
Transfer the biscotti carefully back to the cookie sheet, browned side down, and not touching each other. Bake for an additional 50 to 60 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through, until they are nicely browned. Remove to a wire rack to cool.