Friday, 9 August 2013

Recipe: Pickled Jalepeños (& Road Trips With Kids)

road trips and pickles... they really go together well! 

It's summer time.... the season of family road trips to visit distant family & friends or road trips meant to leave the confines of our day to day home routines to take on a bit of adventure in our lives. Road trips are one of my favourite things. There's nothing like a road trip to relax, build some time together with a series of shared experiences and settle into an exploration of the gentle progression of our huge Canadian landscapes. To do a road trip well, and to truly relax and enjoy the experience, takes a good dose of planning and a bit of extra time. But the smoothness that that time & effort bring to your adventure makes a road trip go from a hectic, nerve wracking nightmare to a fun, relaxing time filled with companionship, friendship and fun.

Food is an essential part of a road trip for me. I don't mean stopping at roadside diners, fast food joints or Timmies.... Nope! I mean packing seriously good road trip lunches brimming with tasty sandwiches, crunchy veggies, great fruit, always homemade cookies & fun munchie treats. Sure, there's the odd stop at a favourite place... like the Bear's Paw Bakery in Jasper for their scrumptious raspberry & white chocolate scones and seriously good lattés, topped with a chocolate covered coffee bean, or the incredible muffins at the Swiss Bakery off the main drag of Valemont... but for the most part we avoid the high fat, high salt, high calorie roadside restaurant stops... both for health reasons (and the way it makes our bodies feel... sluggish, thirsty & uncomfortably full) and for the time it takes to do those stops, not to mention the expense involved when travelling with & shopping for a family of four. (The savings gained from NOT eating out en route can often pay for the difference between staying in a typical, boring, mediocre roadside motel, and staying in an independent boutique-y hotel full of character, personality & charm.) Life... it's really about choices, isn't it?

I'll let you in on a few secrets of our success when it comes to prepping and packing for a road trip with kids:
  1. Make sure the food is good... good tasting, good quality, full of nutrients. Nothing too fatty or salty. Make them munchy things with lots of variety, packed in small bags to be brought out throughout the journey... bags of blueberries, carrot sticks, small tomatoes, pretzels, small plums, homemade cookies, jerky...). Lots of these items are available at our market! 
  2. Have fun with packing the sandwiches... we always use a sharpy marker to label the sandwich bags with goofy names, rhyming clues, silly things... these names change with each trip and usually cause a few giggles.
  3. Be sure to include little treats... you can pack these in small, ziploc snack bags. Sometimes holding these out as a carrot (for finishing your carrots) works wonders for getting your family to eat healthy on the road.
  4. Pack a half used (because it fits better) roll of paper towels in a plastic bag and shove it in the door pocket of your vehicle (great for the inevitable spills, & they make perfect road-lunch napkins).
  5. No matter how old your kids are, pack a package of wet ones baby wipes (great for sticky hands & faces). Throw it in the glove box or door pocket for quick access.
  6. Have water bottles (we use metal ones from MEC) on hand for hydration rather than sweetened, calorie-laden juices & pops or chemical-laden diet drinks.
  7. If the road trip is very long, and the children are small, resist the urge to turn them into videy-its (you know what I mean... plugging them into movies and electronic devices for the duration of the trip) and engage them in the journey from time to time by reading to them or by playing games like Eye Spy, the licence plate game (where you gather a long list of province & state plates) or memory games. The public library and the internet are full of travel game ideas.
  8. When the kids ARE sleeping or being good little videy-its, the driver & front seat passenger can relax and visit with each other and listen to podcasts that you've downloaded for the trip. My hubby & I love CBC's The Age of Persuasion (now called Under the Influence, an in depth look at the advertising world and at how advertising changes our habits and culture), Quirks & Quarks (a science show), and Dispatches (a travel documentary show).
  9. A good latté smooths the way to fun conversation on the road. Never underestimate the value of a terrific road side coffee shop. Starbucks has a great app for the iPhone so that you can find the nearest coffee shop while on the road. But that being said, we always try to find the independent coffee shops when travelling... they're often quirky, full of personality and give you a good sense of the place through which you are travelling.
  10. Pack a ball or a frisbee... something small... for a bit of rest-stop/roadside fun to break up the monotony of a drive and to stretch out squirmy legs (kids) and stiff muscles (adults) from the long time spent sitting. Many kids toy shops have terrific quirky balls and toys that you can bring out as a surprise on a trip... that can infuse a little novelty & fun into your adventure. The Science Shop and Laugh 'N Learn and Campers Village all have some super fun options. You can get squishy balls (our favourite is called the Waboba (WAterBOunceBAll), a ball that is gel filled & fabric covered that can actually bounce on the surface of the water), spiky balls, colourful balls and flashing balls that have lights in them that go off on impact.
  11. Pack little baggies of small toys for young kids, rather than putting them in a big bin between the seats. Pulling out a bag periodically throughout the trip adds a sense of newness, novelty and wonder... where a large bin quickly becomes tiresome & boring. I used to sort them by imaginative themes... one bag might have finger puzzles, another small plastic dinosaurs, another playmobile people, another k'nex or lego, and another finger puppets. There are tons of possibilities here. Then throw those baggies into a cloth bag, kept on the floor well of the passenger seat & you're good to go.
  12. We also had a "Mommy's Going Crazy" jar at our house that could be adapted for the road. In it were folded up scraps of paper with ideas for things to do (make the alphabet with your hands and arms, sing a song, count backwards from 20, name 10 things that are red, say a word that describes something you see out the window... the next person has to say a word that begins with its last letter... and so on). The kids, by pulling the paper out of the jar themselves, feel that they're controlling the moment and so they buy in to the activity. This can buy you countless minutes of peace & happiness.... staving off the inevitable "Are We There Yet?"s.
  13. And depending on the length of the trip and the age of the kids, a bin, placed between the seats & filled with books, can act as the ultimate distracter for (and physical buffer between) the kids.
So there's a few ideas... feel free to comment with your own additions. And have a terrific trip!

pickled jalepeños
This really the secret to awesome (adult) road trip sandwiches! The pickling process takes away most of the heat of the jalapeños leaving you with a slightly spicy, very flavourful, moist addition to a sandwich. Because, let's face it, sandwiches can be dry & boring. Add this bit of colourful, moist heat and you take your sandwiches to the next level, guaranteed!

And the truly amazing part of this is that they are incredibly easy to make! If you've never pickled anything in your life, THIS is the recipe with which you should start! They can top any sandwich, from a veggie sandwich through to meat and/or cheese sandwiches. They are simply fantastic!

Jalepeños & red chilies are available at TR Greenhouses in little bags (watch out for the orange habeñero ones... they pack an incredible amount of heat!!!) or on plants at Dargatz Family Farm. Just be sure to wear gloves when handling them (I use latex disposable ones that I can find at any grocery store or drug store in the first aid section).

1½ lb. green jalepeño peppers
½ lb. red jalepeño peppers (chilies)
4½ c. white vinegar
4½ c. water
3t. pickling salt
8 bay leaves
8 cloves garlic (optional)
8-1c. jars
  1. Sterilize jars by boiling them in a canner (a large, lidded pot filled with water) for 10 minutes (do this while you're slicing up the jalepeños). 
  2. While the jars are boiling, put on gloves & cut the peppers into ¼" slices, discarding the stem ends. Don't worry about getting rid of the seeds or ribs. The pickling process dampens down the level of spice. This is a very quick step.
  3. Combine the vinegar, salt & water in a stainless steel saucepan & bring to a boil.
  4. Remove jars from boiling water. Put a bay leaf & a garlic clove (if using... I don't) in each jar.
  5. Pack the jars tightly with peppers, leaving ½" headspace. Cover peppers with pickling brine, leaving that same ½" headspace. Seal & process jars in canner for 10 minutes at a rolling boil.
  6. Remove jars from the water & let stand 24 hours. Check to see that seals worked. Store in a cool, dark place for a minimum of 3 weeks. Refrigerate after opening.
Recipe from Southern Living's Little Jars, Big Flavours
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Contributed by Sheri Hendsbee

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