chhotii: (caffeine)
As you know, I have for years been working to answer the question of "how can you pack in enough food, and produce enough meals in the hotel room, that you can get through all of Arisia with neither buying food from the crummy hotel food-service establishments nor leaving the hotel?" This has been motivated somewhat by being cheap, and somewhat by spite at the crummy hotel food-service establishments. To this end I come up with a rather exhaustive, carefully thought-out grocery list and meal plan, before every Arisia. Like here. Other moms take inspiration from my lists and pack in tons of food too.

This year I discovered just how futile this effort is. On Friday evening, I had Sophia and her BFF in tow. They got hungry and started clamoring for pizza, which they had seen for sale in the lobby. I knew that the BFF's mom had probably packed in a ton of food, and my not-roommate had bought a ton of food to bring, and they would both be sad and inconvenienced if nobody ate the food they brought and they had to carry it all home again. So I hemmed and hawwed about buying the pizza. What food did the moms bring that had protein and could rival the pizza? Would the kids eat beef jerky? Sophia got sick of arguing with my hemming and hawwing and said, well, forget you. I have money in my pocketbook, and a green ribbon on my badge, I'm just going to go back to the lobby and buy it myself. Friend, do you want me to buy you pizza? So then they ran off to the lobby and bought pizza and chicken nuggets.

This was a moment kind of like when we rescued a featherless newly-hatched baby bird that had fallen out of its nest, put it in a shoebox, fed it mushed-up cat food with a coffee stirrer for about 10 days-- and then it stretched its wings and flew out the window.

What should my response to this have been? I could've pulled authority on them and been like "NO! THAT IS NOT THE PLAN!" but, really, to inflict a weekend of them hungering for pizza, and put sudden limits on how Sophia could spend the money in her pocketbook, just because someone else's mom had thought it a good idea to bring an entire suitcase full of crackers? Really? I contemplated the baby dragons flying out of the nest and came to several realizations:

1) I have a kid who is nearly 11. She is only going to get older from this point onwards. She will probably get more and more independent for the rest of my life. 2) Sophia should have spending money while at Arisia. Her having her own money cuts off the endless whiney arguments whenever she wants me to buy her something. For the first 5 minutes of the con I can shut down these arguments by saying "you can buy it yourself out of your spending money!" and the for rest of the con I say "you should've thought of this before you spent ALL your money on (whatever silly thing she spent it all on)." 3) As long as Sophia has money in her pocketbook, nothing I can cook up in the hotel room can compete with pizza or chicken nuggets from the lobby concession. Really, having thought upon the subject for years, I think "Sci-Fi Con Hotel Room Rice Cooker Casserole" is probably the pinnacle of hotel room cuisine. (I challenge y'all to do better. Seriously.) I am not going to suddenly come out with tacos, or pizza, or homemade soup with lots of fresh veggies, or any other of the wonderful things I make in my kitchen at home. (Not having a kitchen in the hotel room is a serious limitation in being able to cook there.) So as long as Sophia has the choice between spending her own money on lobby concession stand pizza and whatever I have in the room, whatever I have in the room is likely to lose. 4) But the fact that Sophia has this choice should foster her starting to think about the spending decisions she makes.

On Sunday, I did not give Sophia the promise that I would buy her pizza; rather, I gave her money for pizza, with an "oh by the way you can spend this on something else and then have re-heated chicken and rice from the rice cooker, that's free." She then ran off with the pizza money and bought a TARDIS-shaped piece of chocolate (of course), and later willingly, sheepishly, ate the rice cooker casserole, fully admitting that she was not eating pizza that day due to her own decisions. I'm hoping that she learned a thing or two about impulse purchases from the chocolate TARDIS experience. (Not that the Rice Cooker Casserole is a punishment. It's really pretty good. The point is that if Sophia were to beg for pizza that day, she had completely undercut her position, and she totally recognized why.)

So, resolved, several things about the food plan for Arisia--

First off, if we only go for one day next year, I am not going to pack in any food at all. If we are only at Arisia for Sunday, I will dole out Sophia's spending money just before meal-times so that she can buy lobby concession items, I will try hard to round up dinner companions for my own dinner, and we will make do with whatever Con Suite has in between. If I get a hotel room for just one night after getting a Sunday-only membership, I will wake up on Monday morning without a valid con membership, which puts a stop to Con Suite mooching-- but that's OK, I can go to Starbucks for breakfast.

If we do do the entire weekend at the Arisia, I should still try harder to round up dinner companions. Rather than being so preoccupied with being in a snit at the restaurants in the hotel, I should focus more on trying to be social. Trying to be so stingy has made me a bit of a hermit, cooking rice in the hotel room by myself, which rather defeats the entire purpose of going to the con at all. Really false economy.

Nevertheless, I should still pack in the stuff required to do Rice Cooker Casserole. In case Sophia chooses to spend her money on other stuff, no matter how frivolous, the consequence should not be starvation, but merely "I'm not buying you restaurant food I packed the rice cooker." Probably additional rice and a Tasty Bite package of Madras Lentils, too, just in case.

One should not pack in food that duplicates the stuff that is likely to find at con suite. When trying to bring All The Food it's too easy to default to bringing all those things that are easy, cheap, and relatively shelf-stable: bread, crackers, cookies, dried fruit, chips, juice. Notice the patterns here: these tend to be high-carbohydrate, often grain-based, providing lots of calories and not much else. (Think "exactly the opposite of Paleo.") Exactly because such things are easy, cheap, and relatively shelf-stable, the Con Suite, fan tables, and open parties supply starchy, sugary stuff by the ton. You cannot count on exactly what will be found at the Con Suite, but there will be random people chow of some sort, and thus we do not need bring more of it.

I don't 100% hate all the food establishments in the hotel. I only 50% hate Starbucks. Starbucks does a really wonderfully nutritious Hearty Veggie Bowl, the most nutritionally correct fast food possible. I highly recommend it, when you need something healthy but you're traveling or absurdly busy.

Thus, the revised, short list of what I now think would be a good idea to bring:

* Sophia's camelback water bottle; I think she was sucking down too many juice boxes, just to stay hydrated.
* Single-serving UHT milk boxes still very much come in handy.
* A few cans of pineapple juice (for Sophia) and spicy V8 (for me): we don't usually drink these, but we can splurge as an Arisia treat, since it's so hard to stay hydrated at the hotel.
* All the ingredients to do one instance each of Rice Cooker Casserole and rice with dhal (Tasty Bite).
* Gorp consisting of almonds, craisens, dark chocolate, and bran cereal
* Some fresh produce, selecting for what won't get too damaged in the suitcase on the bus and won't require much prep. Avocados, oranges, apples, carrots, that kind of thing.
* Maruchan Instant Lunch (add hot water for noodles and salty broth). Just for emergencies. Yes, these are nutritionally horrible. However, they are quick and super easy in the hotel room with hot water from the little coffee maker they provide; and, when all other meal ideas have fallen through, they fool your mouth into thinking you are getting a meal (as opposed to just a snack).
* Beef jerky. In spite of Sophia's pangs of moral discomfort with the American meat industry. This might be out-weighed by the fact that when showing up at the D&D table with beef jerky to pass around results in instant popularity.

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