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GEAR AND GADGETS : Adding a Little Mealtime Pleasure to Road Trips : Suggestions to help you with your picnic lunch or morning cup of coffee.

July 04, 1993|JUDI DASH

Although a vacation almost invariably means plenty of time and money spent in restaurants, there are times when it's nice to have your own resources for producing, say, a cup of coffee or a picnic lunch. I resent the big bucks spent on room-service coffee, and early in the morning I am in no mood for a hotel coffee shop. In scenic areas, a climb out onto some rocks often provides a far more refreshing lunch break than a table in a roadside hamburger joint.

While those bent on traveling with as little gear as possible may balk at these extra items, I find them worth the space, and have been known to leave home an expendable sweater or pair of shoes to make room for my favorite "extras."

Following are some of my favorite food-related accessories. Except where noted, prices do not include shipping and handling:

Ah, the joy of picnicking at a scenic overlook, your trusty cooler providing ice-cold drinks and safely chilled culinary treats. The problem with most portable coolers is that they're never tall or wide enough to fit a bottle of wine, and there's no place to neatly store plates, cups and utensils. This lightweight plastic cooler ingeniously solves both problems--then adds some extras I found so irresistible that after testing the product, I immediately bought one.

The double-walled cooler is 11 1/2 inches high, 11 inches wide and 9 inches deep, providing enough space for two upright bottles of wine. A plastic cutting board, with holes cut out for the bottle tops, fits snugly onto lips at the top of the chest; this has the dual function of keeping the bottles in place and affording a tray for items you want to keep separate from the rest of the food. Four plastic tumblers stacked two-deep are included and designed to store inverted over the wine bottles, and there's a shoulder strap for easy toting.

As for plates and utensils, the cooler not only stores them but supplies them. An external panel folds down to reveal four 8-inch-square plastic plates, four small stainless steel spoons and forks, a sharp knife, a can/bottle opener and a corkscrew. The utensils fit into individual grooves in the panel and are held firmly in place by an elastic strap.

All these extras don't come cheaply, but for those who do a lot of picnicking--or need a great wedding gift--this is worth going for.

Picnic Cooler Set (Item No. 5277) in white or black is $89.95 from Frontgate, 800-626-6488.

Manufacturers have yet to invent perfect travel coffee makers--they're either too small or too messy--but this dual-voltage mini-brewer from Zelco comes pretty close. Unlike most portable coffee makers, which merely heat water that is then poured through a filter perched on the top of a cup, Zelco's BriskBrew actually drips one cup of coffee into its own 8-ounce cup. The result is a steaming hot cup of fresh-brewed Java that tastes perfect, except perhaps for a slight off-taste from the plastic cup--but that's getting very picky.

The nifty design features a perr manent mesh filter that fits into a detachable brewing unit, which attaches to the top of the pot. When the electric cord is plugged in, heated water is forced up into a cylinder in the brewing unit and in about five minutes coffee drips into the cup. If all you want is hot water--for tea or instant soup, for example--just leave the coffee out and water will drip into the cup.

When not in use, everything--including a tiny collapsible spoon and two miniature plastic coffee containers--pack into the pot, with the cup as the lid. The coffee maker comes in a nylon pouch; when all packed up it weighs just one pound and measures a diminutive 6 1/2 inches by 5 inches by 2 1/2 inches.

I liked the size of this brewer and the fact that I could get a real cup of coffee out of it, but there are drawbacks. Since it comes with only one cup and produces only 8 ounces of coffee, it's really not suitable for two people who each want their morning coffee pronto. They'd have to go through the process of replacing the grinds and brewing another serving when the first drinker was through with the cup. Also, I found the rectangular cup a bit awkward while drinking. Still, for single travelers or those willing to share a cup or fight to be first, this is one of the best traveling coffee makers around.

BriskBrew Coffee maker is $40 from Zelco, (800) 431-2486.

Here's another coffee solution that may fill the bill. If you already have a water heater or electric coil, just pour the boiling water through these one-cup filters that suspend into any tall mug. Put a teaspoon of ground coffee into the filter, insert the hard plastic rod through the holes in the top of the filter, and place the rod on the lip of the cup. As soon as one cup has finished dripping, move the rod and filter to another cup, add one more teaspoon of coffee, and pour a second cup for your mate. The rod comes with each pouch of 40 filters.

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