I love to cook on vacation, an activity I usually have to defend when folks ask how I spent time on holiday. Freed from the detail of tweaking, testing and following recipes, I shop farm stands and have access to local seafood, so meals are seasoned with spontaneity.
As the days dwindle, it becomes a worthwhile challenge to eat down the refrigerator: Breakfast’s blueberry-cornmeal skillet cake, dairy and eggs go into dessert’s baked pudding; grilled vegetables become a composed salad.
Returning to the same rental house at the beach or lake each year allows a major advantage in that I know what equipment is on hand, and I can maintain a small pantry stash. But when the venue is sight unseen, it becomes even more important to plan for a certain comfort level in the vacation kitchen. That, plus a cocktail hour, will keep meal-related stress at bay.
Packing a kit with these items is doable, whether you’re flying or driving:
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1. The knife you use most at home, freshly sharpened. Makes sense when you think about it, right? If you wrap it in a dish towel, you’ll know you have a clean one.
2. A flexible cutting mat. You’re basically bringing your own clean work surface and it’s not as heavy as a cutting board.
3. A pack or two of dried rice paper wrappers. Multipurpose and not always easy to come by in beach-town stores. Use them to make different, daily summer rolls, or use them to wrap tidy bundles of fish.
4. Plain rice vinegar. Splash it on potatoes headed for salad, into dressings, as part of a quick marinade.
5. Smoked Spanish paprika, or the most expensive/hard-to-find spice you typically use. Keep your flavor standards intact. Tracking down saffron will hamper your efforts to relax.
6. Frozen cookie dough. Make it ahead, and skip lugging heavy-bagged ingredients – or paying premium prices at small stores.
7. A blender (standard countertop if you’re driving, or a personal “bullet” size one). Why leave the prospect of slushy drinks to chance? Also good for pestos, gazpachos and fruit sauces.