The Road to Redemption: How to Eat Healthy on the Road

Vortex Music Magazine

Portland musicians John Craigie, Laurie Shook of Shook Twins, and The Slants' Simon Tam talk about how they maintain a healthy diet while touring more days than not.

Editor's Note: Last summer, we printed our Music & Food Issue but unfortunately never published much of the issue's content online. Better late than never, we believe there's still value in day-old bread so let's explore the intrinsic connections between the purveyors of fine food and drink in Portland and those who make the sweet sounds that fill our ears. Here's to all that our musicians and chefs are cooking up together—cheers!

With its Subways, 7-Elevens, Chipotles and Cheesecake Factories, finding good food when you’re on the way from one place to the next can be a joyless gruel, especially for touring musicians who are on the road for part or most of the year. We caught up with three of them—John Craigie, Laurie Shook of Shook Twins, and Simon Tam of The Slants—to learn about their tips for better eating, both on the road and at home.

John Craigie, Singer-Songwriter

Days on the Road: About 200

John Craigie: Photo by Keith BersonJohn Craigie: Photo by Keith Berson“The worst thing about touring is after-show hunger, especially if I’m performing in places outside of NYC or Portland,” John Craigie says. “Most places will be closed. The only places that are open are bars, especially in the Midwest. People eat, then don’t plan to eat again during their drinking hours? Doesn’t anybody wanna eat past 10?”

Apparently not, which is why Craigie, a vegetarian and very occasional pescatarian of 15 years who flies solo into large cities and drives a rental by himself to small towns, always stocks up on snacks and sandwiches like Safeway’s avocado and cheese sando. He knows it’s not the best, but it works in a pinch.

“Food is easier when you’re traveling by yourself,” the folk singer says. “It keeps you from eating a bunch of garbage.”

When he’s back in Portland, Craigie leans on his mother’s Sicilian heritage to make a pretty mean red sauce from a recipe that he’s inherited from her, and during the winter months, he heads to New Seasons to buy the necessary ingredients for what he calls his “winter root bakes,” full of garlic, onions, potatoes, carrots and parsnips.

Favorite PDX Restaurants: Siri Thai (5234 SE Powell Blvd.), Harlow (3632 SE Hawthorne Blvd.), Arleta Library Bakery & Cafe (5513 SE 72nd Ave.)

Laurie Shook, Singer-Songwriter and Multi-Instrumentalist in Shook Twins

Days on the Road: About 100

Katelyn and Laurie Shook of Shook Twins: Photo by JessIe McCallKatelyn and Laurie Shook of Shook Twins: Photo by JessIe McCall“Growing up in Sandpoint, Idaho, my parents let me and my sister [bandmate and identical twin, Katelyn] eat whatever they brought home from the Safeway, and just let us be kids,” Laurie Shook remembers. “That meant lots of Cheetos, Gushers and other shit that was really bad.”

College wasn’t much better. “We practiced drinking beer in college, not practicing guitar,” she says, which they cut with Top Ramen and one-minute mac and cheese.

“When we moved to Portland, we realized it was important to distinguish what we put in our bodies,” Shook says. “When we’re on the road, we try to hit co-ops if at all possible, which generally have a deli bar or salad bar. We try to go to Whole Foods when we’re in the Midwest, even though we know it’s not organic—at least there—but at least it’s real food.”

Back home, the twins don’t do much home cooking, mainly because they live with two other roommates who love putting on a spread. In a pinch, they’ll hit the New Seasons deli or just grab a can of plop, which is their name for the sound Amy’s organic lentil soup makes when it shimmies out of the can and into a pot.

Favorite PDX Restaurants: Wilder (5501 NE 30th Ave.—where she always eats a burger once tour ends), Proud Mary Cafe (2012 NE Alberta St.), Tin Shed (1438 NE Alberta St.)

Simon Tam, Bassist and Founder of The Slants

Days on the Road: 200, unless the band is recording, in which case the number’s 100-150

The Slants' Simon Tam: Photo by Sarah GiffrowThe Slants' Simon Tam: Photo by Sarah Giffrow“Honestly, the worst thing [about touring] are the hours,” Simon Tam says. “When you have an early soundcheck and a show that goes late, most of the places with the best options are going to be closed. Usually, it's just fast food or gas stations if you're catching a late dinner—that's why we often try to hit grocery stores while on the road, so we can pick up healthier options like fresh produce and save them for later.”

When asked for his favorite genre of food, Tam asks, “Is spicy food a genre?” before zeroing in on Chinese food. “There are over 50 distinct types of Chinese food from different regions that have vastly nuanced flavors, cooking styles and ingredients,” he says.

“From hot pot to dim sum, hand-pulled noodles to soup dumplings, one could spend their entire life exploring these dishes and not even crack the surface. That's what happens when you've had over 4,000 years to develop flavors. And that's why Anthony Bourdain says inside every great chef is the heart of a Chinese cook.”

When the dance rockers are not on tour, Tam cooks about five nights a week. “It allows me to control what goes into my meals, especially since I've been focusing on eating healthy more consistently,” he says. “The Instant Pot is my BFF—I like creating bone broths, pressure cooking bones, and steaming vegetables in it.”

Although, now that the latest tour’s over, he increasingly finds himself at home at his sister’s Either/Or coffee shop on North Williams. “While I was there during the soft opening, I really enjoyed the rice bowls,” he says. “A bit of comfort food that was healthy, light and great on flavor.”

Favorite PDX Restaurants: Pho Vietnam (5440 SE 82nd Ave.), Bun Bo Hue (7002 SE 82nd Ave.), HK Cafe (4410 SE 82nd Ave.), Pure Spice (2446 SE 87th Ave.), My Brother's Crawfish (8230 SE Harrison St., Ste. 315)

Explore more stories of how to pair Portland's fine music, eats and drink in our Music & Food Issue.

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