I’m sitting in a plastic chair outside the terminal A gates at Newark airport. It’s chilly inside; the recycled air feels both stale and cold. It’s barely 7 AM. The early morning energy at the airport is nice—despite not being my top choice of places to sit, I like the bustle of travel around me. At this time of day, people aren’t yet harried and exhausted—they’re all intent on getting somewhere, all purposeful and excited or focused and rushed. The people-watching is excellent. I wait for my cup of hot water with lemon (a safe bet while traveling) and watch people order. The world of early-morning coffee and breakfast orders in an airport is a fascinating microcosm—some people, barely awake and still sleepy-eyed, stick with coffee and milk. One woman opts for some sort of whipped cream-topped caramel-spiked macchiato. Two teenage boys ask for breakfast sandwiches with bacon and cheddar and chocolate croissants and hot chocolates. I suspect they’ll be hungry again within an hour.
It took years of traveling before I finally understood that you MUST. PACK. SNACKS. Why didn’t this register? Why did I think—trip after trip—that somehow a really great juice bar was going to materialize next to Hudson News, offering me warm cinnamon-spiced steel-cut oatmeal or a creamy raspberry smoothie with homemade almond milk right before a morning flight? Or that maybe a Sweetgreen-esque salad spot would have popped up, under the radar, right beside the sleazy open-all-day airport bar?
This will not happen. Despite the proliferation of good snack food in the world, airports lag behind. Yes, there are great airport restaurants. Yes, there are great coffee shops and snacks in airports. But they’re not reliably located in all of them, and you’re more likely to end up eating a sad meal of Greek yogurt with a plastic spoon and a waxy plastic-wrapped apple, chased down by a bag of pretzel twists and some gummy candy.
And being trapped inside on a beautiful summer’s day with a dearth of fresh, ripe produce simply makes me think about—and appreciate—everything outside…everything that I will shortly be enjoying because I am here in this airport.
Taking a deep breath of salty Maine sea air. Feeling the sunshine warm my face. A just-baked scone, juicy with roasted nectarines, all golden edges and soft, custard-like pockets where the fruit is nestled into the batter. A cold seltzer. A bowl of crunchy-sweet homemade granola, doused in milk and eaten slowly so as to slowly sweeten and infuse the milk with each flavor: toasted coconut, oats, sesame seeds, sea salt, honey, and cinnamon.
And if you’re at the airport in the summer, chances are you’re mere hours away from a slew of similar pleasures. You’re likely flying somewhere beautiful and relaxing, to soak up these last golden weeks with people who make you laugh, doing things like eating drippy ice cream cones at sunset and playing paddleball at the beach while the hot sand scalds your bare feet.
So you’re not in dire circumstances: there are good things ahead. But you should still pack snacks to make the journey more pleasant. And this loaf cake is the ideal travel food: slightly decadent, so as to lend some cheer to the humdrum nature of travel; wonderfully easy to transport (if it gets a bit squished, so be it! it’s remarkably sturdy as loaf cakes go, so you can toss it into your carry-on and go about your merry way); full of chocolate, and I shouldn’t have to explain the emotional perks there.
Chocolate Rye Loaf Cake
Makes one 9” x 5” loaf
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup rye flour
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brewed coffee
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup dark chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9” x 5” loaf pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, rye flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
In a stand mixer, beat together both sugars and butter until creamy and light in color.
Add the coffee with the vanilla and the dry ingredients, alternating between each. Mix until just combined.
Stir in the chocolate chips, then pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and let cool for 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.