Sunday, August 31, 2014

Vegetarian Road Trip - Yellow Stone National Park - Food

Day 1 was exhausting! We drove about 1000 miles from Chicago Midway Airport to Rapid City, SD. Thank fully the kids behaved very well!! During the last hour Shiv started complaining of boredom but that is completely valid. We took short stops for food for Mr. Roadster (read fuel) and to answer nature's call.... with three boys in the van, what do you expect! We took two longer breaks for lunch and dinner. Lunch was deliciously delicious! Home made parathas and left over potato and bell pepper sabzi from the night before, cantaloupe and baked chips.

We were so glad we packed food from home because there are not too many  healthy and flavorful options for vegetarians on the way other than Subway. The drive through Minnesota into Rapid City is picturesque! There is so much greenery all around. Everything is picture perfect... ya but there is nothing other than acres and acres of lush green farms on 90 W. Even the food and fuel exits don't have much at all. I would advise to carry food. It is a two lane highway with very little traffic. It did get scary at some point at night. Dinner was quick sandwiches at Jimmy John's which I am not a big fan of but we didn't want to spend too much time on eating since we had a long way to go.

Since I had exercised my culinary muscle quite a bit at home, we had healthy lunch and snack options to eat in the van along with some store bought junk.

Viren has to have stove top tea everyday. That is his only requirement at home or outside. Chai Latte from Starbucks will not cut it for him. So he carries his little tea duffle everywhere which contains the handy dandy stove, a pot, loose tea leaves, sugar, tea masala and milk in a cooler. He enjoys making tea on a road trip and is famous for that among folks who know him. We savored the home made muthiyas and puris with piping hot masala chai on one of the days for lunch! It felt so good and refreshing! In fact, we even had tea and other homemade goodies in Yellow Stone National Park with our friends. That was the most relaxing part of the trip where we just chilled out and laughed instead of planning/thinking where to go next.

The stove also came in handy on one of our lunch stops when the kids wanted to have Maggi!

Except the three days in Yellow Stone National Park, we had breakfast included in the hotel stay. Most of the breakfast buffets were pretty decent. The highlight was make your own waffles. The kids really enjoyed that! There was milk, teas, coffees, pastries, breads, fruits, bagels, yogurt, boiled eggs... the basic spread. I wouldn't complain. We stuffed ourselves before we took off so we were good to go until lunch.

The restaurants within the park also have decent vegetarian options like Veggie Wraps and Black Bean Burgers with the regular accompaniments like fries and onion rings. There were also some vegan and gluten free options. I specifically enjoyed the Veggie Breakfast Burrito in Old Faithful Inn.  It contained Greenwheat Freekeh topped with Tofu Scrambler, Salsa Fresca, Diced Anaheim Chilies and Fresh Cilantro rolled in Organic Whole Wheat Flour Tortilla served with Fresh Fruit Salad or Home Fries. I picked the fruit salad for obvious reasons.

The best pizza we have ever had in our lives was in Nick Wilson's Cowboy Cafe in Jackson Hole, WY. It was a cold and rainy day so  I don't know if it was the weather or we were really hungry or the pizza WAS really good. We polished off two thin crust, coal oven baked margherita pizzas! The crust was the best part. Ishaan and Shiv still talk about it.

While we are on the Pizza topic, mention worthy is Outlaw's Pizza in Gardiner, MT. That was the first night we met our friends so I think the pizza tasted even better. We had so much to catch up on that I didn't take any pictures there.

I was looking forward to trying Native Indian Tacos since we were in that area. We got to try it at Crazy Horse Memorial. It was tasty, but nothing that made me go crazy about it or want to try making it at home. I thought it to be a cross between tostadas and gorditas. But it is a good one time try. In fact I wouldn't mind having it again if it was one of the choices.

Overall, I think if you leave well prepared from home and you are willing to try new options, finding vegetarian foods should not be a problem except during the long driving stretches between major cities. There is a lot of healthy food awareness in the destination spots. We couldn't try anything out of the ordinary because of Shiv's food allergies but even with that food was not an issue.
Other options our group had brought along were microwaveable mac and cheese, gujju travel foods like theplas, puris, haandvo and sukhdi, green chutney so that we could make chutney sandwiches and fresh fruits in the coolers. All in all out of 24 meals we ate only 11 in restaurants. Rest were from what we carried along. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Vegetarian Road Trip - Yellowstone National Park

ROAD TRIPS..... I am not fond of them. They have never been on my wishlist because of multiple reasons - the main being I don't like to drive and I don't have the patience to sit in the car for hours. Viren on the other hand does not like to drive but has always wanted to go on a road trip. So, in the most exciting Summer 2014, I finally gave in. Why? Because the destination was Yellowstone National Park (YNP). "So what?" you ask. Well..... YNP has been on Viren's bucket list FOREVER! I have also heard from friends that it is beautiful - not just the park, but the drive there also. So I thought this would be the perfect time to do it because I am between jobs right now so I don't have to worry about PTO and a couple of our friends are joining from CA.

The preparations for the road trip began! As I started googling checklists and other travel tips, the excitement gradually started seeping in. Scoring a reservation in the YNP was a challenge! Everyone who said to book two years in advance was so right. There were no rooms available for the days we wanted not only in YNP, but also in Gardiner, which is at the north entrance of the park and in Cody! But, there is always hope because of last minute cancellations. I spent a good six hours making reservations for lodging only in YNP, Rapid City, Sioux Falls, and Cody. Calling Xanterra (the company that handles YNP reservations for lodging and other activities) twice a day had become a part of my daily routine. Finally, after a week’s calls, I was able to secure a room for two days in the epic Old Faithful Inn and a cabin for one day in Yellowstone Lake Hotel and Cabins!!! I was ecstatic because I had heard so much about the Old Faithful Inn. I was told that staying there was an experience in itself! I have read in blogland that whenever you are visiting a national park, it is always best to stay in the park for the best experience. We will see. 

Well, the preparations began with the boys cleaning the van inside out. They washed and vacuumed and waxed and did everything possible to shine up the Mr. Roadie Roadster (our Honda Odyssey)! For one week I lived and breathed YNP Road Trip, and I cooked and cooked and cooked because I was warned that there are not many vegetarian options in the meat and potato laden states. We loaded Mr. Roadster at night and called it a day early, but couldn’t sleep until midnight because of the excitement.

Next morning we were all up by 4:00 am. We had to drop off my MIL at the airport because she was leaving for California. The road trip began on a rainy Saturday morning with a small hiccuup! We left home at 6:04 am hoping to reach the airport to catch her 8:30 am flight. Boy were we off! As soon as we got on to I 55 N, Viren and I smelled propane in the car. Now since we had propane cylinders in the car for his morning tea, we decided to pull over and check if there was a leak. Thank fully there wasn't! When we reached the airport it was chaotic! There were loads and loads of people everywhere! There were some sports teams leaving for tournaments so the airport was packed. We were sure we would not make it. Viren waited in the line with my MIL and kids and of course the luggage while I tried to see how they could cut the line officially. I requested and pleaded with the Southwest folks, but they were unhelpful and mean! Filled with anger and frustration, I watched the passengers on wheel chairs cutting the line and being taken straight to the kiosk. I told the Southwest employee that we had requested a wheel chair for my MIL also! Bingo… she let us cut the line and we checked in in less than five minutes! In spite of all this, she missed the flight to San Jose. Viren who had escorted her to the gate finally managed to get her to board the flight to Oakland. 

So now our road trip officially began at 8:45 am..... just two hours behind schedule! 

Our itinerary looked like this: 
07/26/14 - Chicago to Rapid City, SD
07/27/14 - Rapid City to Yellowstone National Park
07/28/14 - 07/29/14 - Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole
07/30/14 - Cody
07/31/14 - Cody to Rapid City
08/01/14 - Rapid City to Sioux Falls
08/02/14 - Sioux Falls to Chicago

Friday, August 22, 2014

Rakhi Gift for Sister

Rakshbandhan is a fun festival celebrated during the holy month of Shravan. On this day sisters tie a rakhi on their brother's wrist asking for protection. Brothers promise to protect their sisters and give a gift/cash in return. A rakhi also symbolizes the love between a brother and a sister. Different states in India celebrate it differently.

I have very fond memories of Rakshabandhan! School was always off on that day which gave the day a good start. On most Rakshabandhans my Mom made sure she bought me a new outfit. If not, I at least wore something fancy from my closet and decked up as best as I could or was allowed to, even if it was for a less than five minute long ceremony. The night before, my Mom would prepare a special sweet for my brother and other cousins. On special demand was always a chocolate fudge that Mom prepared using milkmaid (condensed milk). During those days (no internet days) such recipes were not easily available. This recipe was included in the free recipe booklet that came with a can of Milkmaid. The very first year that Mom made it, it was a hit! She also prepared Marie biscuit and coconut laddoos using milkmaid and cocoa powder. Those were my absolute favorite! I could polish them off in one sitting. 

Ishaan and Shivansh have a little cousin Narayani, who sends them a rakhi every year. Narayani is my cousin, Jigar's adorably cute daughter. Jigar is one of the few people who have always stood by my side come what may. I share a special bond with him.  This year the boys decided to make a gift card book for Narayani from themselves and their cousins in Australia and India. They came up with a beautiful story in which Narayani, her Parents and all the brothers were characters of the story. They typed the story and glued it in a blank book that we purchased from Michael's.  We then bought gift cards in different denominations and stuck them in the book as appropriate. The glue didn't co-operate well, but eventually we fixed it!

I am very proud of my boys because coming up with a girlie girlie story was a bit of a struggle for them because they are so into fantasy adventure novels like Magyk Series. They also tried to keep it short and simple so that Narayani could enjoy it. I commend them for thinking in those lines! They wrote the story at home and then kept changing it while we were out shopping for the gift cards which meant extra driving around for me. They put in a lot of effort and thought behind this and I am a PROUD MOMMA!!! They sure do know how to spoil their little sister!

We would like to dedicate this book to
Narayani Jigar Patel
for being an awesome little sister!
Happy Rakshabandhan!!!
Ishaan, Shivansh, Mrida, Punit, Kaivalya

Far, far away in the grand kingdom of Mobile, Alabama, Princess Narayani woke up on a bright and sunny day. It was the royal holiday of Rakshabandhan! For the holiday, her father – King Jigar decided to take her to town for a fair treat of donuts. She thought they were the best donuts in the World!
When she returned to the castle, Princess Narayani got bored so she picked up a book and went to the reading chamber to read. She read the book for 1 hour. After she finished the book, she rushed out with her royal servants to Barnes and Noble to buy the sequel of the book.
Before she could start reading the sequel, her brothers, Prince Ishaan, Prince Shivansh, Prince Mrida, Prince Punit and Prince Kaivalya took her to Build a Bear Workshop to build her very own stuffed animal.
The Princes took her and her new soft, cuddly friend to Panera Bread for a royal lunch after that.
After lunch, she thought it was a hot day so they went to get ice cream from the royal ice cream shop - Cold Stone Creamery. She could choose from a wide variety of flavors and toppings.
There was a Rakshabandhan ball in town. Therefore, Princess Narayani went to Justice to buy a beautiful gown. 
She also bought matching accessories from Claire’s. All the other girls were buying their accessories from Claire’s so she wanted it from there instead of wearing the royal jewelry.
Shopping was fun but it did not take up her entire day. Therefore, she returned to the palace in her gold chariot pulled by white horses, and began to play with her new friend until evening. When the royal maids summoned her for dinner, they gave her some good news!
Her Parents, King Jigar and Queen Ankita were taking her out for a royal feast at Olive Garden. She had a wide selection of delicious ravioli, mouth-watering pasta and much more.
At the end of the day, Princess Narayani returned to her sleeping chamber to read the sequel. Slowly, she became drowsy. Her eyelids dropped and she drifted away into dreamland. That is how Princess Narayani spent her wonderful day of Rakshabandhan!

Without further adieu, let me share the pictures with you. Please enjoy the self explanatory pictures.


We had done something similar for Ishaan's first grade teacher as a Teacher Appreciation gift. Except that story was hand written and the book was hand made with construction paper. Mrs. S loved it and couldn't stop talking about it.

Table Runners to Chair Covers

As August comes to an end, we start feeling a slight chill in the air. The tips of the leaves start changing colors. The boys in the Patel Household start looking forward to football season and I start preparing for the festive season!

With Navratri and Diwali being right around the corner, I have started rearranging and redecorating my very minimally decorated home. I have these beautiful table runners in different colors which scream festivities all over. They have the bright colors, the gold weaving  and the traditional designs. Since they are all pretty, I am  unable to decide which one to use. So I decided to use them as chair covers. They worked perfectly! They make my dining table look so colorful and festive!

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