The Joys of Cooking on Vacation

Photo by MyVR - Vacation Rentals by Owner. Some rights reserved.

Photo by MyVR – Vacation Rentals by Owner. Some rights reserved.

Perhaps it’s the season, or there’s something in the zeitgeist, or it reflects some cognitive bias on our part, but since launching The Moveable Chef two months ago we’ve noticed more and more food writers have been writing about cooking on the road.

Of course we didn’t invent the idea of cooking on vacation, but we do aim to make it easier, better, healthier and more fun. Which is why we particularly enjoyed Melissa Harris’ article in the New York Times (“A Minimalist Approach to Cooking on Vacation“) this past weekend, because we’ve been thinking some of the very same things ourselves for quite some time now.

Over a lifetime of cooking in spartan rental-house kitchens on summer trips, I’ve baked pie in a skillet, shaken salad greens dry in a pillowcase and whipped cream in a (clean) coffee can. Once, when we arrived to find the stove broken, I used a charcoal grill to boil a pot of pasta because that’s all we brought for dinner and the nearest supermarket was 20 miles away.

Despite the lack of kitchen luxuries (or maybe because of it), some of the best and most memorable meals I’ve ever made have been with nothing more than a battered skillet, a spoon and a dull knife.

This isn’t to say I would willingly give up my stocked pantry, or even one of the semi-useful gadgets that crowd my kitchen drawers at home. But cooking on vacation has its own rhythm, one that forces me to pare down and use the most basic techniques possible. I’ve found that training myself to think about meals in the simplest terms can actually be a good thing, helping me distill a dish to its essence.

I also use fewer ingredients. The dance of cooking at a vacation rental is that you don’t want to buy too much once you’re there (you’re not likely to use that entire jar of mustard in three days), but you don’t want to drag along too many supplies from home, especially if your trip involves an airplane. You never know what you can count on being stocked at the house, and even if there are ancient spices in the cabinet, I promise they won’t improve any dish you add them to.

Then there’s equipment. Even when I rent a house from people who promise that the kitchen is tricked out for a serious cook, I still take my own knives. A microplane zester is very lightweight and will grate cheese and the zest from all those lemons. (The latter can be added to salad dressings, pasta sauces or bowls of fruit, or rubbed on a steak along with garlic, salt and pepper.) If I’m driving somewhere, a large Dutch oven can double as a pasta pot, skillet and bread pan, and you can even put it on the grill should your oven be broken.

But no matter what you love to cook or how you cook it, with a little thought you can turn a few quality ingredients into a meal that celebrates spending time with friends and family and, at least temporarily, enjoying a more relaxed way of living. Which is exactly what a great vacation should be.

Check out Harris’s article to read about the tools she travels with and the items she includes in her “Portable Pantry.” And please continue to follow us here (and on Facebook and Twitter) to learn about tools we recommend and share your tips with us.

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