Weekend In a Cooler: Guest Blogger Challenge!

Why is my text blue? Is something wrong with your eyes, or perhaps WordPress went wonky? No, dear reader, everything is just as it should be. My text is blue because I need to differentiate it from my guest blogger’s. Yep, a guest blogger! So, for the next week-and-a-half or so, my text will be blue, and my guest blogger’s will be black. It’ll keep things a bit more organized. Who, you ask, is this mysterious guest blogger? Well, settle into your comfy chair, grab a cold glass of hibiscus lemonade, and read on…


My friend, fellow foodie, and fabulous cook, Gaylin over at More Than Just the Food, sent me an email a few weeks ago with a link to this article from Cooking Light1 Cooler, 1 Weekend Getaway.” They created 5 meals for a weekend that fit into just one cooler and a tote. Since she was taking a Memorial Day trip herself, this caught her attention. Both of us are local, real food nuts (I mean that in the fondest possible way), and while the authors of this article did a great job, she was pretty sure she could go one better and use a lot of local, seasonal foods. She asked if I was interested in helping put this together. Let’s see..a good friend and great cook who shares my love of real food proposes an interesting challenge. How could I say no? In addition to the rules set in Cooking Light, which we wanted to follow, she had some challenge condition of her own, too (remember, Gaylin’s posts, text, and comments will be in black for the duration of this series).

  • The food has to survive travel well.
  • In general, I’d like it to consist of what’s in season and even highlight it.
  • I’d rather use stuff I can get at my farmer’s market if possible.
  • I’d like it to be cost-friendly, but my definition and other people’s in this arena are different. Food costs money. Crap doesn’t.

We live several states apart, so most of our planning was going to be via email; but, we decided to do the initial bit via phone. The first order of business was to figure out what ingredients she had to use up:

shredded broccoli
shredded zucchini
leek–maybe 4 x 5″chunks
3 eggs
frozen vegetables
frozen fruit
Nutella (homemade from toasted almonds!)

We had to plan on the hotel they were staying in only having a microwave, and everything had to be easily assembled or pre-cooked. With all this in mind, it was on to the brainstorming, which yielded all kinds of ideas—some usable, some not. We needed 3 dinners, two lunches, three breakfasts, desserts, and drinks. And it all had to fit into the cooler. Of course, as she said, “It really is a big damned cooler. Coleman Xtreme, 70 quarts or some such.” which made things a bit easier. We hung up, and each got to work planning healthy, local, seasonal menus:

My Menu

Dinners: 3
1. Zucchini gnocchi with light lemon cream sauce, and broccoli slaw.Uses: zucchini, gnocchi, cream, leeks, brocoli. Other: olive oil, dressing, carrots.
2. Venison/chicken/lamb tikka masala.Uses: meat of your choice, cream/yogurt, rice, any vegetables. Other: spices, onions, garlic
3. Dinner salad with salmon.Uses: salmon, salad fixin’s. Other: homemade vinaigrette.

Lunches: 2
1. Bacon Salad Rice Wraps. Uses: spinach, asparagus, zucchini, sorrel, boiled egg. Other: rice wraps, mushroom, red onions, red wine vinegar.
2. Turkish lunch. Uses: cooked salmon, olives, leeks (caramelized), iced fruit salad. Other: bagels, hearty bread, or crackers, good cheese.

Breakfasts: 3
1. Yogurt with granola. Uses: raw yogurt, granola, fruit.
2. Hot cereal.Uses: granola, raw milk, fruit.
3. Whole grain pancakes with berry filling. Uses: berries, grains. Other: flours/grains, spices.

Desserts: 3
1. Nutella filled pastries with fruittopping.Uses: nutella, fruit, puff pastry.
2. Balsamic strawberry shortcake. Uses: balsamic vinegar, sugar/honey, strawberries. Other: cake/shortcake/etc. Additionally, strained/Greek yogurt is an awesome addition to this.

3. Cardamom Indian Rice pudding.Uses: raw milk, yogurt, or cream, rice. Other: raisins, spices, saffron, sweetener (I like honey). Rose water optional.

1. Chili, black sea salt, and lime roasted garbanzo beans
2. Salted nut mix
3. Empanadas and/or zucchini personal pastries
4. Assorted cheeses & sliced hard meats
5. Cinnamon and vanilla nuts or chai-coco roasted (pecans, almonds, walnuts work well)
6. Boiled eggs with Indian bbq rub

1. Coffee
2. Mudled strawberry mojitos
3. Strawberry martinis
4. Strawberry lemonade squishes
5. Rhubarb spritzer (do you have rhubarb there yet?)
6. Sangria!

Gaylin’s Menu

1. Thai couscous vegetable wraps. Uses broccoli, zucchini, sorrel, eggs, mushrooms, peas (I found some!), couscous. I was looking for something light to eat the first night, and if I make some extra, we’ll have some to pass around as a dish while visiting.
2. Spinach gnocchi with bacon and roasted asparagus tips. Uses gnocchi, bacon, leeks, asparagus.
3. Venison, mushroom empañadas with chard and spinach salad. Uses venison, mushrooms, swiss chard, spinach, some fruit for dressing.

1. Turkish lunch. Salmon as the centerpiece, zucchini galettes, cheeses on the side. Hearty bread. Capers, olives a must. Maybe boiled eggs. Figs (we have some) and dried apricots.
2. Cold noodle primavera. Uses mushrooms, asparagus, peas, leeks, bacon.

1. Yogurt with granola. Uses raw milk, granola, fruit.
2. Breakfast scones with fruit sauce and almond butter. Uses grains, fruit, and the almond butter that slipped to the back of the fridge.
3. Make-ahead fruit smoothies. Uses yogurt and fruit and the last of the homemade peach ice cream in the freezer.


1. Mini fruit-filled pastries. Uses nutella, fruit, puff pastry. Maybe enough to share with others.
2. Balsamic strawberry shortcake. Because hot damn that sounded awesome.
3. Nutella brownies. Uses nutella and nuts. Another dish to eat and to pass.

1. Coffee. I’ve confirmed an in-room coffee maker.
2. Muddled strawberry mojitos.
3. Bloody Marys. Our bloody mary mix is the best and it’s made right here in town!
4. Sangria.
5. Bottled wines.

Gaylin took a look at all the factors, from time to cost to cooler fit, and came up with the final menu:

  • A selection of hard cheeses from the farmer’s market and grocery. My favorite was the truffled white cheese from Farm Country Cheese House in Lakeview, Michigan.
  • A selection of mixed, brined and spiced olives. We can’t get olives at the farmer’s market, so I get mine from our little locally owned grocery store, Holiday Market, in Royal Oak, Michigan. I can ride my bike there from our house.
  • A selection of hearty bread rolls from the farmer’s market. We got the rolls from Herman’s Bakery, one of the last and most dependable local bakeries around. They sell at the market, but their actual store front resides in the oldest commercial building in the downtown area. Every time I buy from them at the market, they ask after “The Big Guy” and send along a special treat for him.
  • Dried Figs and Apricots. I get these from the heart of Detroit just across the parking lot from the longest running open air market in Michigan, Detroit’s Eastern Market. The company is the Rocky Peanut Company. Until we’re able to grow our own figs, we’ll likely buy them from the twins grandsons that run the nut counter here. Charming gentlemen willing to talk for hours about their products. I love that.
  • Zucchini Galettes. This was such a fantastic way to use up a large amount of last year’s harvest.
  • Spinach Gnocchi with Asparagus and Peppered Bacon. We ended up eating this cold because there was no microwave at the hotel and it was still incredibly good.
  • Squid Ink Pasta with Fresh Spring Veggies. Don’t make the face about the squid ink; it just makes the pasta beautifully black in color. It tastes nothing like squid nor ink. The light lime cream sauce really tied everything together. This was some of the best primavera I’ve ever made.
  • Vegetarian Spring Rolls. These were hands down my scariest and favorite dish to make.
  • Venison, Wild Mushroom, and Caramelized Onion Empañadas. We harvested the venison ourselves.
  • Rawmilk Yogurt. I love how hands-free this recipe is.
  • Clean the Cupboards Granola. A favorite of ours because it uses up so much stuff.
  • Bloody Mary’s made with our favorite locally made mix from McClure’s Pickles (run, don’t walk, and buy anything they sell) and vodka from a new locally sourced spirits vendor, Valentine Vodka (we admit we bought it for the label first and the local sourcing and flavors after we realized how good it was). They use all Michigan grown grains!
  • Frozen Fruit Booze Smoothies. All those last little bags of berries and stone fruits that weren’t going to get made into baked goods went into this drink. And I finally used up the last of the rediscovered homemade peach ice cream.
  • Faux Nutella Cake Brownies. I made the nutella-substitute from roasted almonds, again from Rocky Peanut Company.
  • Wine. More wine. And more wine. So many bottles of wine they took up their own travel case. We had an amazing party around the hotel’s swimming pool.
  • Coffee. Yes we really brought our own once we confirmed the in-room coffee maker. Ours doesn’t come from a local roaster because we’ve not yet found one that sources ethically. Until we do, we’ll continue to get ours from the Caribou Coffee down the street from our house because we can guarantee that it’s not only organic, but ethically harvested and certified by the Rainforest Alliance.

I know, makes you hungry just reading it, doesn’t it? Aside from getting her the empanada crust recipe and some quick tips about using rice wraps, my part was done for the moment. It was on to preparation, and while I was there in spirit, her and her Chef’s Jacket did the hard work without me (not that I wouldn’t have loved to have pitched in, but a 14 hour drive stood between me and mixing empanada dough). 

How did it go? In the next several days, you can read for yourself. Gaylin will be doing most of the blogging, so feel free to ask any questions or leave comments in the comments section. There will be recipes, food porn,, thoughts on local ingredients and where to find them, and comments on the challenge from both of us:

Feel free to chime in and let us know what you like, or what you’d have done differently.


10 responses to “Weekend In a Cooler: Guest Blogger Challenge!

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