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Kara's Sights and Bites: Best food and travel items of 2024…so far, anyway

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I’m not sure how – or when – it happened, but 2024 is more than halfway done. Before more time elapses, here are the items that have made cooking, eating and traveling a little more memorable in the first six months. 

1.      The first one is actually a combination food/travel find: A road trip of any length must include snacks. A new favorite is Ritz Toasted Chips in honey barbecue flavor (there’s also sweet habanero for those who prefer a hot bite). It’s taken a while for Ritz to embrace the toasted craze, but when they did, the results were delicious.

2.      Breyers CarbSmart Creamy Almond Vanilla Frozen Dairy Dessert Bars – Breyers has always “done ice cream right,” but they’ve surpassed themselves with this frozen treat. Thankfully, I don’t have to limit carbs for health reasons, but it never hurts to cut back when a product is, unlike most carb-free pastas, actually edible. After buying these for a friend with dietary restrictions, I tried them for myself. I discovered they’re not just edible, but good. After a “real” pasta dinner, enjoying one of these cool treats allowed me to have dessert, guilt-free. 

3.      Traveling can be stressful, especially with the added worry of getting sick while away from home. Thankfully, I’m rarely sick on the road, but that didn’t stop me from taking preventative measures during a recent trip to Texas. Biovanta’s Immunity Defense Lozenges and Throat Spray are drug-free, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines that provide a safe and effective way to prevent illness and if needed, treat colds and a cough. I can’t positively say that’s why I survived two packed flights, continuous people exposure and non-circulating hotel room air without a sign of illness… but it definitely didn’t hurt.

4.      Selecting my next travel destination was made a little easier by a unique blanket that doubled as the perfect cozy throw this winter. A soft, 58”x 50 blanket made of fleece and microfiber fleece features the intricate art and history of mapmaking from Xplorer Maps, the travel destination for hand-drawn story maps and accessories. Blankets and other products feature a wide variety of colorful, realistic maps, including the National Parks, famous domestic and international travel destinations, many U.S. states and my favorite, a complete U.S. map depicting each state and the item for which it is most famous. Check out these amazing products at: www.xplorermaps.com.

5.      A not-so-fun aspect of traveling is having to downsize liquid items to three ounces. Even if you’re checking a bag in addition to carrying one or two onboard, who has space for full-size containers of favorite health and beauty products? OK, I DO make an exception for my full-size can of John Frieda Hairspray. However, Mychelle facial creams and a genius cleansing stick, all of which are sold in travel and full-size containers, elevated my beauty products carry-on game. Additionally, aluminum-free Crystal Sea Salt + Sage Deodorant became such a favorite due to its sturdy container and ability to do the job without leaving a streaky mess. I use it on a daily basis, not just when traveling. Many Biovanta products are sold at area drugstores; I found Mychelle products at Whole Foods in Jackson. Check out their respective websites for more details.

6.      Yoplait Protein Strawberry Yogurt – Consuming an adequate amount of protein has always been challenging, but this product has helped improve my daily intake. Besides the fact that it contains only three grams of sugar and leaves no bitter aftertaste, one small container is filled with 15 grams, or 30% of my recommended daily intake. Another game-changer in the daily aisle.

7.      Screamin' Sicilian Multi-Meat Pizza Bowl – As stated above, I’m not that concerned about cutting carbs…but that doesn’t necessarily mean I should throw ALL caution to the wind. When I first saw these flavorful bowls in the freezer case, I grabbed one solely due to the enticing package photo. After preparing it, I discovered the bowls contain “almost” everything you’d find on a pizza – meats, cheeses, vegetables and tomato sauce; the only thing missing is a carb-filled crust. With a 31gram serving count, I’ve never felt so good about enjoying my favorite pizza toppings.

8.      Packing cubes – I realize I’m late to the package cube game. I can now share they’ve been a game-changer in my packing organization. Being able to pack and grab each day’s outfit and accompanying items in one compact bag has greatly reduced the time I spend departing a hotel room every morning. After reading reviews and checking out several brands, I purchased Miami Carryon 12-piece from QVC due to its variety of sizes and shapes.

9.      And my favorite “new” travel destination of 2024? I say “new” because Mississippi’s natural, unspoiled beauty can never be surpassed and New York City, even in drizzly January, continues to hold my heart captive…but Grapevine, Texas is a recent addition to my “favorite places to visit" list. Located just outside Dallas and here’s the best part, only 10 minutes from DFW Airport, the “Christmas Capital of Texas” resembles a Hallmark movie town on steroids. There’s so much to love about this city with a small-town feel. I’ll share more details in next week’s column.

10.  Speaking of New York City, I’m still hoping I’ll manage to squeeze in a trip this summer. Reading about the free and low-cost things to do right now on NYC Tourism & Conventions’ website kicked my interest into high gear. NYC is packed with activities that include festivals, bazaars, outdoor concerts and plays, sporting events and of course, Independence Day activities galore, ranging from Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest to Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks. If you’re a foodie, visiting during Restaurant Week, scheduled for July 22–August 18 is a great idea. Hundreds of restaurants citywide will be offering prix-fixe menus and other specials rarely offered in NYC. To learn more about Summer 2024 in NYC’s five boroughs, visit the website at: www.nyctourism.com.

    Last, my favorite recipe (thus far) in 2024 is this easy homemade granola. Just like almost every supermarket product, cereal prices have skyrocketed in recent months. A bowl of granola, chopped apples and nuts and almond milk is a favorite meal. However, I can’t justify paying $4 or more for a half-full bag of oats and grains. This recipe is so easy and economical to make for meals and snacks that I highly doubt I’ll go back to the commercially-made version.

    Enjoy the rest of 2024  - stay tuned for more favorites at the end of the year!

 Easy Homemade Granola
4 cups Old-Fashioned Oats (not Quick Cook variety)
1 cup slivered almonds or chopped pecans (whatever you prefer)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (or shredded)
1/2 cup chopped dried fruit (cranberries or other favorite flavors) or semisweet chocolate chips (whatever you prefer)
1/2 cup chia seeds (optional)

     Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, stir together oats, almonds, cinnamon and sea salt until evenly combined.

     In a separate measuring cup, stir together the melted coconut oil, maple syrup and vanilla extract until combined. Pour the coconut oil mixture into the oats mixture, and stir until evenly combined.

    Spread the granola out evenly on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Then remove from the oven, add the coconut, and give the mixture a good stir.  Bake for 5 more minutes, until the granola is lightly toasted and golden.

     Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire baking rack.  Let cool until the granola reaches room temperature.  Then stir in the dried fruit, chocolate chips or any other optional add-ins you prefer. Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 month.

Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer from Mississippi. Email her at kkprco@yahoo.com.