By Bonnie Fishman
This was my 16th time driving 2,450 miles from Detroit to California. And my last! My husband, Bob, and I finally have committed to living full time on the West Coast after years of spending winters there in a more temperate climate. The pandemic helped us make that decision by default. We came out to the San Francisco Bay Area to visit my sisters in December of 2019. Boom! Covid-19 hit and we ended up staying for 15 months, until it was safe to travel back to Michigan. During that time, we reevaluated our situation and decided to stay in sunny California, where our whole family has now migrated.
After selling our home in suburban Detroit last week, we made our final journey across this expansive country. Many people wouldn’t have the stomach for the long drive. I rather enjoy it, crazy as it sounds. We have it down to a science. In the earlier years when we would “snowbird” out west, we would pick up Route 66 (I-40) in St. Louis. (We had to take the southern route during potential snowstorm season). We would drive straight through to St. Louis for the first night. Approaching the city, we would call ahead to our favorite Indian restaurant in the country, Ra Soi, to place a carry-out order. The samosas and aloo gobi parathas are killer. They barely made it the hotel room, the car filled with Indian spice aromas.
In general, I think Route 66 seems more glamorous than it is. Quite frankly, once leaving the rocky Ozarks in Missouri, the land flattens out, becomes dry and colorless. If you’re into tumbleweed, you’re in luck; northern Texas has plenty. Try to avoid them at all costs because when crossing the freeway at high speed, the tumblers scratch your car! I’ve probably been to every Starbucks along Route 66 at some time or another. I even recognize the baristas!
Last week when we made our final journey, Bob and I took I-80 because it was a more direct route to northern California. Change is good, they say. The inedible breakfast food in most of the roadside hotels has not changed. It was a repeat performance at our first stop in Des Moines, Iowa. Your first clue is the infamous styrofoam cup. I have a long-standing position about this. No matter how caffeine-deprived I am, I refuse to drink out of said cup. Two reasons: styrofoam is bad for the environment and any coffee served in it will be equally bad. I travel with Starbucks Via Instants. A godsend. The waffles were from a mix, the hard-boiled eggs probably not boiled within 100 miles of the hotel. The oatmeal was instant. That’s a tough one to mess up, but alas, it was like glue.
Lousy coffee in styrofoam. Gluey oatmeal.
We were hauling at a fast clip, reaching Laramie, Wyo. for the second night. The motels were getting seedier by the day. We were traveling during the 4th of July holiday and most of the restaurants were closed. We made do with a “charcuterie” dinner in the room, brought from home in a cooler. I am usually prepared for eating well when possible. Before leaving on our trip, I had made a fruit salad and brought along some Greek yogurt so that mornings began on a high note.
By the third night, we found a terrific Italian restaurant nearby for carryout. Calamari, crab cakes, handmade pasta in sleepy Elko, Nev. The chef was schooled in Paris and trained in California. Things were looking up! By day four, it was “California Dreamin.’” We were on our way home, at long last.
Besides the usual snacks for any road trip - nuts, cut up veggies, grapes, clementines, potato chips - I always bake a batch of Mondelbred. For those unfamiliar with this cookie-like delicacy, it is the Jewish biscotti. There are many variations and an ongoing debate as to how to make them–crispy or not, thin or not, and so on. I use my mom’s recipe. The variety is in what you add to the basic dough. Any combination of nuts, chocolate chips, dried fruits will do. If you want to make your road trip that much sweeter, pull out a couple of pieces of Mondelbred the next time you stop for coffee. It certainly got me from Starbucks to Starbucks across this expansive country.
Yield: 36 servings
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla
3 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2-2/3 c. ground walnuts
1/2-2/3 c. mini chocolate chips
cinnamon sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, blend together the eggs and sugar. Whisk in the oil and vanilla. Using a wooden spoon, blend in the flour and baking powder. Gather dough together. Divide the mixture into 2 bowls. Fold the nuts into one bowl and the chocolate chips into the other. Or you can add both into the whole batch.
Form each portion of dough into a 16” log x 2” wide. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly to a 3” width. Sprinkle liberally with cinnamon sugar. Bake until set, about 25 minutes. Slice each log into 18 pieces. Separate the pieces a bit so air can circulate. Bake until dried out a little, about 15 minutes more.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.