Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Road Ready, Like Genoa Salami
by Bernadette Noll

When my friend Krista and I discovered we had relatives living on adjoining ten-acre lots on a remote mountainside outside of Santa Fe, NM, we just had to road trip. Never mind that we had three little kiddos under the age of three or that it was a good, day-and-a-half drive or that it was August in Texas and we’d have to drive across West Texas to get there, the coincidence of her brother and my cousin being friends and neighbors on this dirt-road-access mountainside seemed too great to ignore.

In just a few short weeks we were loading up Krista’s Econoline van with car seats and bedding and coolers full of food and water and her very old and weary dog Fred. We hit the road at the crack of mid-morning and felt no less than elated by our bravado at embarking on such an impetuous adventure. Weren’t we the bold moms, we thought as we high-fived each other on our way out 290 West.

Knowing we were heading into a radio wasteland we loaded up with music of all sorts, for all age brackets. Both of us agreed that too much kid music could be our mental downfall so instead we stuck with kid-friendly music: bluegrass, Beatles, Replacements, Cajun. Any music we knew would get us singing and our toes tapping would surely keep the kids smiling and their hands clapping. (We are by no means fooling ourselves into thinking this rule will always apply but we will take advantage of it until our children tell us to pipe down.) As a backup, I brought along my button accordion, an instrument that had been used more than once on these very three children as a proven effective silencer in times of tot turmoil. I know only a handful of songs, including the not oft recognized Ring of Fire with a waltz beat, but the brevity of my repertoire had no impact whatsoever on my young listeners.

Between the two of us we had prepared a road-trip feast fit for queens and their young offspring. For us moms, my time honored road trip staple: Genoa salami sandwiches prepared on long hard loaves and sliced into one-hand-on-the-wheel portions. This sandwich had proven itself roadworthy many moons ago, on a six-week road trip my husband and I took B.C. (Before Children). They last in a cooler for longer than I care to admit and taste better with each passing day. They get more savory, more delectable, and more pungent with each passing mile. After a few hours stewing in its own juice, each piece is a dripping, amalgamated, mouth-watering delight with all the parts joining together to form the perfect union.

For our young clutch, mess was a factor as was fuel. While we wanted our food to ooze with juicy goodness, we wanted the kids’ to be drip-free and easily servable in a car seat. We prepared piles of veggie pancakes, an old, road stand-by of my sister’s, a veteran to both mothering and road trips. Served cold, these are favored not just for their flavor but also for their aerodynamics as was evidenced each time we flung them into the back seat. Another staple on this voyage were black bean and cheese quesadillas; stacked to the hilt, chilled to perfection and served in easy to distribute wedges.

And it was on this trip that the fame of our longtime family favorite known as peanut butter tacos began. A sort of melding of cultures, these little morsels are full of protein, easy to prepare and dispense, have a lengthy shelf life and are enjoyed by kid and adult alike.

In between actual meal-like items we had snacks galore: pretzels, dried fruit (easy on those apricots there, little missy), carrots and of course, a stash of sweets for times when all other distraction methods failed. Though we tried, we did learn that no food is completely mess-proof and we coined the phrase, crotch picnic: the veritable buffet that is found under your child upon removal from their car seat.

The ride went surprisingly smooth. We kept the music pumping. We kept the feasting at a maximum with the seeming theme being, why wait to eat when you can eat now? We kept the drivers shifting regularly so as not to burn anyone out on kid-duty. This job was rather taxing in that it required the mental and physical stamina needed to constantly anticipate the needs of, feed and keep entertained three tots in car seats. After a few hours in this role, driving was a welcome respite.

Once at the hotel, a swim in the indoor pool helped quell the road buzz and the kids all crashed out quite quickly. After they passed out I ran down to the van for a forgotten item and as I walked through the musty hotel lobby, I couldn’t help but ponder the scene that would play if I just decided to hop in the van and go. Perhaps it was the flatness of Lubbock, or the long drive, or maybe the B movie quality of West Texas that made this east coast girl speculate; heck, I wasn’t actually going to do it, I had no real longing to leave, but the thought pervaded. Exactly how long would I have to be gone before it dawned on Krista that I wasn’t coming back and she was stranded in a hotel room in West Texas with three babes and no vehicle?

But of course I returned and just in time to catch Krista actively chilling a surprise pitcher of margaritas she had squeezed the night before; the perfect end to a hot and dusty day. So there we sat, on a blistering, summer night, overlooking Lubbock from our concrete balcony, sipping hand-squeezed margaritas from salt rimmed glasses while our wee ones slumbered soundly behind sliding glass doors. We toasted each other, Krista’s margaritas, and our audacious mothering.

The next day’s drive was shorter and filled with the thrill of nearing our destination. We arrived mid-day and climbed the rocky mountainside to the home of Krista’s brother, where we were met by a small herd of pet goats. I had been warned of his he-of-definitely-no-kids-or-desire-for status and so, after a brief visit and tour of the homestead, we left Krista and Evalyn and headed up the way to my cousin’s, she with small kids and all the accoutrement.

Our actual stay on the mountain was short but sweet – probably too short for all and therefore not quite sweet enough for any. Before the road had vanished from our collective memories, we were again loading up the van, our ardor waned a bit and the kids none too pleased to be revisiting their car seats so soon. Next time we’d stay longer.

Food once again was our fuel: as activity, sustenance and this time, a bit more bribery. Cookies and other sweets were more readily dispensed than they were on the outbound as we changed our operation to by-any-means-necessary. Snacks were more the rule than the exception with pretzels in all shapes dominating. Our sandwiches may have been a bit less painstakingly prepped, yet still they dripped with satisfying succulence. And as the music pumped and we all sang a bit louder we were able to rally for the journey home.

As we drove along the melting highway, pleased with our impetuous selves, we couldn’t help but feel a bit smug that this impulsiveness we thought we had abandoned with childbirth, was still with us and somewhat strengthened by this passage. Our kids may not remember this journey other than through photos and stories, but they can be satisfied in the knowledge that their moms are just as road ready as, well, Genoa salami.
Bernadette Noll is a freelance writer living and working in Austin, TX. Though she loves living in Texas and has birthed two (soon to be three) Texans she is proud as can be that New Jersey is her motherland. She has written for both online and print publications, for everything from serious (ly dry) trade magazines to humor monthlies and many things in between. She has been a regular columnist, a frequent contributor and a one-shot-deal freelancer. This is the first of what she hopes will be many writings for AustinMama.com. She lives happily ever after with her husband Kenny and their two kiddos, Lucy and Otto. In just a few short weeks they are expecting the arrival of the family's deciding vote.

Rattle that Salami: Road Recipes
Road Sarnies
Black Bean and Cheese Quesadillas
Peanut Butter Tacos
Veggie Pancakes