Category Archives: traveling

Sometimes You Feel Like A Nut, Sometimes You Don’t

First came Justin’s: a simple solution for the peanut butter obsessed. These individual packages of nutty goodness are great for snacking, traveling, even packing your kid’s lunch. And although the cute logo and even cuter website seems to be amazing enough, the best part of Justin’s is that the almond and peanut butter pouches also happen to be absolutely sodium free.

So, for the majority of you readers, this is jump-up-and-shout good news. But, if you happen to be like me, a sodium AND nut free girl (yes, I am allergic to macadamias, almonds, pea, wal, and anything else that ends in “nut” because, why stop at just one dietary restriction when you can collect them all?), you are still left without an easy, energizing, nutty snack in a pocket-sized package.

That is, until Artisana came to town.

Whole Foods must have only gotten these nutritious, nut-free goodies a day earlier, because, yes, that’s how often I survey the grocery store shelves and they weren’t there the last time I checked. But thank goodness they are there now for these are the perfect peanut butter solution.

Artisana has two sodium free products: Tahini Butter and Coconut Bliss. The coconut bliss is perfect for a sweet fix, and you can’t go wrong with a coconut and chocolate combination; think macaroon. And, as I’ve expounded it past posts, tahini butter is a great substitute for peanut butter – it is creamy and nutty, and, when mixed with a lumpy berry jam, it makes an awesome sandwich.

But what excites me most about these packets of crushed sesame seeds, even more than a TB & J sammy, is that they are the perfect amount for a single batch (i.e. one can of garbanzo beans) of fresh hummus. Ripping open one of these babies is eons better than being guiltily left with a huge tub of tahini butter after you have satisfied your hummus fix – a situation that just tears me up inside.

So there you have it, another sodium free treat that you can throw in your backpack, suitcase, purse, and earthquake kit.

Chow on.

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Highfalutin and High Flying

If it seems I am a bit punchy this morning, well I think it is because I am drunk with anticipation. I am about to head off to the airport to board one of Virgin America’s swanky 70’s lounge flyers (which always makes you want a cocktail and a disco ball at 7am) and join my friends in Southern California to celebrate a most special day – Miss Davies’ Wedding! Beyond the normal excitement, I will also be acting as the officiant – or the Pope as I like to refer to myself – so I am most definitely filled with the proverbial champagne bubbles and butterflies.

But as I prepare for my weekend getaway, it is equally important that I make sure my suitcase is filled with appropriate, travel-safe, low sodium goodies. No one wants a grouchy master of ceremonies or a tummy that rumbles so loudly that it interrupts the “I Do’s.”

For that reason, I am dedicating this post to the art of traveling on a low sodium diet. I have written on this subject a few times before and as such, have included links to those articles below. But just to kick things off, here’s what I did to prepare for the few days I will be away from my lovely kitchen:

  1. I grabbed myself a bag of Terra No Salt Added Sweet Potato Chips (and took the air out so that it lays flat in my carry-on)
  2. I bought Unsalted Brown Rice Sesame Crackers and threw them in a plastic bag as well
  3. I cooked up some chicken thighs (this is only for the first day of travel so I don’t worry about keeping it cool)
  4. I made my own granola mix with dried cranberries, strawberries, and puffed rice cereal – perfect for breakfast and 911 snacking emergencies
  5. And finally, I packed a little plastic bag of oatmeal. Just add (hot) water. How great is that? If I am really running out of steam, these oats will do the trick in a jiff

Since the bride is one incredible gal, she actually has all my meals taken care of, having sent her caterer a list of my needs. So in reality, I can actually pack quite light for this trip. But it is always good to be prepared. And since I am realistic with myself about my constant need to be eating something, I am sure my efforts will not be wasted.

For more travel tips, be sure to check out the following posts and as always, shoot questions or concerns my way.

Happy Trails: A list of foods you can find at the airport and goodies that easily fit (and don’t spoil) in your bag

On the Road Again: A dear-diary of what I packed in my bag during a week-long, east coast jaunt

Bon Voyage: Advice for when your travels taken you beyond the American border (and when communication may get fishy)

The Dehydrator: When low sodium astronaut food doesn’t exist, make it yourself! This helpful “kitchen” tool enables you to bring your best home-made, low-sodium meals with you anywhere you go – the woods, the outback, and probably even space.

Big Food, Small People: A slightly strange but successful solution to low sodium grub when your resources are limited

With that, please put up your tray table and fasten your seat belts. It’s time to kick off this wedding celebration and as always, chow on! Happy weekend to you all.

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Big Food, Small People

Today, we’re talking baby. Not because I’m having one – although I’m sure I just gave my parents and fiance a brief heart attack – but because babies know a lot about low sodium food.

Feast your eyes on the picture above – a bowl full of creamy puree of sweet potato, corn, and apple, enhanced with a few shakes of Herbs de Provence, red pepper flakes, chili oil, and sliced scallions.

All of this flavor (except for the enhancements) came from one, simple package that I bought in a store. And not just any store, nor your run of the mill, fancy-shmancy organic purveyor, but from Walgreens. And the package didn’t come from just any aisle; but the baby food aisle.

That’s right. When you’re in a pinch for something low sodium and satisfying, head straight to the pacifiers and diapers. It sounds very strange, especially in that context, but the reality is that baby food tends to have little to no salt in it. Which, after thinking about it, makes complete, head-slapping sense because babies have much more gentle palettes than adults, and manufacturers making toddler-friendly fare are more interested in nutritional value than flavor. So a spoonful of Gerber pureed peas will not be of the same caliber as a slowly stewed pea soup, cooked over a stove with brown butter and fried shallots. But when you’re hungry, at least it’s something.

And I have to admit, the latest lines of baby food don’t actually taste that bad. I know this from experience as I would never tell you to try something before I took the leap first and I actually own a few baggies of delicious baby goo, care of my lovely cousin and her one year old boy, who learned a very important lesson in sharing. Thank you, G.

These packages are easy to throw in your suit case and are wonderful for traveling. You can eat them cold, or you can heat them up by dropping the bag in some warm water or by putting them into a different container and throwing it in the microwave. And although they are entirely edible on their own – made more flavorful by interesting ingredient combinations like broccoli, pears, and peas – it’s never a bad idea to bring a little baggie of your favorite spices with you, like pepper or a salt-free spice blend, that you can mix in.

And don’t worry, I didn’t forget about dessert. If you are teething, then go ahead and move to some Gerber Graduate’s snacks. Many of the puffed rice baby treats have very little to no sodium as well and a mild flavor of sugar and cinnamon. Sometimes I just crave something to chew on (much like a two year old), and these are a perfect solution.

Mix the little puffs with some of the sweeter baby food purees – like pear or apple sauce – and you’ve got yourself breakfast.

So don’t be afraid to get in touch with your inner child and be assured that there is always a sodium free life saver waiting for you in any corner store, Walgreens, or Walmart.

Stay full and chow on.

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Welcome to Sodium Girl

Okay, don’t panic.

I know that you come to this blog to see pretty pictures of food and to find mind-blowing low sodium recipes. And today, you open your inbox to find a picture of a black dress.

“What is this about?” you say, furiously slamming your cold coffee on the table.

Well, I can promise you that I haven’t totally lost my culinary mind and I do not plan on giving you a recipe for stewed cocktail dress. Nor will this blog transform into a barbie-doll site about fashion, or the fashion I wear while enjoying low sodium food. I mean, let’s be honest, this dress looks a bit tight and I require elastic-waisted pants when I eat.

But this post does indeed involve a dress. A little black dress, in fact, that I believe sums up my thoughts on low sodium cooking and the joy you can find from the challenges of a dietary restriction.

You see, this past week I was honored with a profile in Arthritis Today magazine that featured my story, my blog (the one you are reading right now), and some of my favorite, mind-blowing, low sodium recipes. Which means that suddenly, loyal Sodium Girl fans are being joined by handfuls of brand new converts. And just as much as I love defying the odds of low sodium cooking, I am equally infatuated with making people feel welcome and at home. So to all the newbies, I say, welcome! And make yourself feel at home.

Now, a quick introduction to the site: Blog, meet new readers. New readers, meet blog.

Other than this particular post, you’ll find that, three times a week, Sodium Girl is filled with recipes, tips, and restaurant reviews that make living on a low sodium diet easy and enjoyable. As the writer, adventurer, and overall merry-maker in charge of this blog, I am determined to make sure that dietary restrictions do not keep anyone from enjoying anything – whether it is eating pickles or traveling abroad – and that instead, they open up more kitchen doors and enable people to explore places and foods that they may have never otherwise tried.

So with that, let me present to you one of my earliest posts on The Little Black Dress Theory. I hope you enjoy my follies, shenanigans, and successes and feel free to write with comments, questions, and tales of your own. You never know when they may end up on the front page.

Later this week, we will be back to the stove with some low sodium cooking and a recipe for pantaloon pot stickers. Just kidding. I’ll leave fashion to the fashionistas.

Eat well and as always, chow on.

The Black Dress Theory

Let’s face it, food tastes good with salt. French fries, pasta water, even chocolate – salt is everywhere and is the universally adored flavor enhancer. We are so accustomed to eating meals laden with the shimmering crystals that, to cook or eat a dish without them seems like an impossible feat (or at least impossibly boring).

When people find out that I cannot have salt, they often react with horror and remark that, if they had to do such a thing, they “would commit hara-kiri.” But this morning, I thought of an analogy that illuminates the ultimately positive reality of eating low sodium. Although it takes some getting used to, not relying on salt has helped me discover other ways to heighten the delicious factor in my food. Eating low sodium does not mean eating without flavor. Sweet butter (when browned) can add nutty, earthy and delicious notes to your food. Vinegars, which are mostly sodium free and can help lower your blood pressure, come in many varieties – apple cider, rice wine, balsamic to name a few – and lend a tang and a zip to meats, greens, and even ice cream when reduced to a sauce. And don’t forget about spices – no one said you can’t have spices, you just have to look for the brands that are salt free. Cayenne, cumin, curry, star anise, coriander, fennel seed, mustard, white pepper, wasabi – holy moly, there is no shortage of options here. And then there’s wine reductions and beer baths, honey and molasses, citrus and fresh herbs. Choices abound, your meals will never fall flat.

So here is a small tale to help highlight the silver lining of low sodium living. And bare with me, this gets girly:

Limiting your sodium intake is like someone telling you that you cannot wear black anymore. Ok, at first, that seems like it would be difficult. People love wearing black. It’s slimming, it’s bad-ass, it’s professional, it’s easy. We all have the little black dress or the killer, I’m-going-to nail-this-meeting black suit. So at first, having to clear the closet of all your go-to black items feels like a bad, practical joke. And having to re-fill it with other things (what could those even be?) and re-style your wardrobe (what will I wear!) seems like an expensive and ultimately time-consuming venture.

Then, a moment of brilliance. You realize, a nice, navy dress doesn’t look half bad and is just as snappy for business meetings. And actually, that metallic gold number you’ve had your eye on forever, but didn’t think you had the guts to pull off, is actually way more bad-ass than that cliché (and face it, fading) black dress.

The point is, in having to limit your choices, you begin to discover new worlds, new combinations, new possibilities that you would have never otherwise explored. And when that black-tie event rolls around, and you can’t put on the standard black outfit, you’ll just have to settle for the fuschia pink pantsuit. And honestly, standing out never is a bad thing.

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The Dehydrator

A few weeks ago, when I was having a minor operation, Boy was thoughtful enough to buy me a little get well gift. It was a totally unnecessary, completely adorable gesture that warmed my heart and really did make me feel better.

And I bet you’re thinking, he probably got her some flowers, a good book, or maybe a DVD set of the past 800 billion seasons of Lost (which I am so behind on that I think, like the Harry Potter craze, I will have to completely ignore instead of trying to catch up and admit to my complete, pop culture disconnection).

But I’m sorry to say you’re wrong. The gift was not a bouquet of lilies. Nor was it a book, a DVD set, or a box of chocolates. It was in fact something more useful, delicious, and entertaining than all four of those options. It was a dehydrator.

Now, Boy and I have only tested this monsterous machine once – to make dehydrated bananas, which look like slugs but taste like banana bread – but I see endless batches of low sodium fruit snacks and beef jerky in our future.  The dehydrator is first and foremost useful for making low sodium treats on the cheap – and thank goodness, because those plastic tins of dried fruit from Whole Foods were really starting to cut into my bank account.

But the dehydrator can do much more than slim down an entire 3-D pear to a 2-D slice of perfect proportion. The dehydrator is also a wonderful tool for making travel-freindly meals. For only $53, I am now able to make all kinds of dried, low sodium dishes that I can easily pack for the trips abroad and adventures in the wild.

While available backpacking food is incredibly space efficient, it is also extremely high in sodium.  So usually, when I travel or camp, I have to forgo these options and find flat, non-perishable items (like tortillas, granola, and sodium free nori sheets) that I can stick in my bag and nibble upon. These solutions work, but the low sodium, space-friendly choices are pretty limited and tend to not be very nutritious or filling.

With my new toy, though, I can now reduce entire pots of vegetable heavy, carb-filled pastas, rice dishes, and soups into travel-sized portions. And when I’m hungry, all I have to do is add hot water and chow down.

I am still not sure how to properly preserve the food without salt – and after my experiment with bacon, my stomach is a little reticent to risk another round of self-imposed food poisoning.  But as I have a four week back packing trip coming up in my near future, expect some major research in the coming months.

So its time to plug that dehydrator in and get plugging on some salt and moisture free recipes. And  no matter where you are, or what deserted road you’ll travel, you’ll be able to chow on.

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Fuel Efficient

So just imagine this scenario: tomorrow is race day.  For the last few months you have been training for  (insert here – a triathlon, aquathon, marathon, or any activity that brings you further than the walk from your refrigerator to your couch) and your muscles, mind, and spirit are set to crush the course.

In the last few hours, before the start whistle blows, you gather all the tools you need to finish this test of physical endurance. You’ve packed the tennies, the padded shorts, the swim goggles, and an extra pair of socks. But don’t forget one of the most important items you need to keep your body moving – fuel.

While there are a bounty of flavors and textures that you can choose from in the sports drink/sport snack department, the majority of them are very high in sodium. A vanilla Power Bar? 200mg of sodium. Chocolate CLIF Bar? 140mg of sodium. And the old standard, orange Gatorade? 270mg of sodium.

To circumvent the high sodium energy snack issue may seem like an impossible feat (worse than climbing that 11% grade, and if you don’t know what that means, your thighs thank you). And packing a bag full of granola isn’t a very practical, or aerodynamic, solution.  Although, I have seen an older gentleman who bikes with three bananas tucked into his jersey pocket every weekend and he looks quite happy. So I guess never say never.

But here’s the great news. For effective, low sodium race snacking, there exist two brands of liquid fuel, which do a great job of keeping you energized, without overloading you with salt. I discovered these energy shots three 4th of Julys ago, when I was taking my first bike ride across the bridge and I had completely underestimated my need for carb loading, or eating anything, before I began. Towards the end of the ride, almost 20 miles later, I suddenly felt my body shut down. There was nothing left to burn and as I looked forward, to the rolling hills ahead, I knew I was done. My bike partner was ready to finish the ride, grab the car, drive over the bridge, and rescue me from my malnutritious state. But I was stubborn (what a surprise) and asked if he had anything I could eat.  All he had were some GU performance energy gels and we both thought that we were out of luck.

But thankfully, we flipped the packet around to see that it only contained 40mg of sodium (less than an egg) and at that point, I needed all the electrolytes I could get.  Within minutes of downing the molasses-like treat, I felt my body perk up and off we went, riding into the sunset and stopping for salt free french fries before we headed home.

So if you really are training for a race, pick up a box of GU or CLIF Shots – two low sodium treats that pack a true punch.  They are also great for camping trips and even to carry with you during travel. When living with a dietary restriction, you never really know where you’ll be able to find your next meal (especially when you are beyond the comfort of your kitchen). And these packets are a great emergency snack to have on hand when you start to feel like your light is burning out.

Now it’s time to really get pumped. There’s a 56 mile ride ahead of me tomorrow. Tonight, I plan to carbo load, get some rest, and as always, chow on.

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Bon Voyage

Traveling on a special diet is certainly a tricky task.  Food at gas stations, train stations, and airports tend to be sodium heavy.  And while gummy peaches and lemonade are delicious, they are not enough to sustain you over a week long trip.

At this point, after traveling to the east coast and back and to a few beautiful places in between, I feel confident in my ability to find low sodium snacks wherever I go.  I have also mastered the art of packing my bag full of lightweight treats, for times when rice bowls and baked potatoes are nowhere to be found.

But there is one travel challenge that still gives me a bit of concern – going abroad.  Not only are you faced with finding low sodium food in unexpected places, but suddenly, you have a language barrier to deal with as well.  As if getting your passport wasn’t trouble enough.

In the past six years, I have only travelled to two places beyond the U S of A: Brazil and Belize.  In both situations, I was with friends who spoke the local language, which made navigating restaurants and menus a breeze.  But what do you do if you are traveling without your own personal interpreter?  How do you prepare?

Turns out, the answer is quite simple.  Translate (literally) the tools you use here at home so that they are applicable for the country you plan to visit. When dining out in San Francisco, I now bring pieces of paper with me that list all of my dietary restrictions as well as the food and flavors that are safe for me to eat.  This little note eliminates any room for error that can occur between the server and the kitchen.  It also gives the chef major comfort and confidence in cooking a delicious, low sodium meal and more often than not, I end up with something magnificent on my plate.

So why should my actions be any different when I am abroad?  The answer is, they shouldn’t.  To prepare, let’s say, for a trip to France (ooh la la!), I decided to give my favorite hospital a call.  I simply asked to be connected to their patient services office and said I needed a French translator.  As easy as un, deux, trois, I had a fully translated transcript of my dietary needs.  They also translated all of my medical information into French as well.

With this tool in hand, I know finding low sodium meals will be easier than finding my metro stop.  And while it may take some extra preparation and some creativity, no low sodium border is too difficult to cross.  Travel on.

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