Cooking on Vacation

Cooking on Vacation by Lucy Vanel

This is part of a series of Q&A’s about cooking on vacation. The complete list of posts in this series is available here.

Lucy Vanel is an American writer and photographer who lives in Lyon, and writes beautifully about food on her blog Lucy’s Kitchen Notebook. She has a particular talent for capturing minute moments, holding them up in her hand for us to see before they vanish, and I always leave her blog feeling like the strings of my heart have been tugged a little. In Lyon she organizes herb workshops and personalized classes and tours, and she is currently working on renovating and equipping a teaching kitchen in Lyon’s first arrondissement, set to open in early 2012.

Here she tells us about the transformative experience of cooking on a wood stove, eating soggy things on a boat, and what to do when you accidentally break off green tomatoes from your plant.

Are you taking a vacation this summer, and will you have a chance to cook?

We take a vacation every summer. Three years ago, we bought a little tiny house in the Alps. During the month of August, we always spend at least two uninterrupted weeks there. When we first began to fix up the old house, I found a Mother Jones article on restoring wood stoves and decided to restore the old Godin in the kitchen. While at first it was just for fun, we realized It was a really great cooking stove in addition to heating the entire house. My vacation cooking is all about that stove.

I was browsing through an old French cookbook, and realized that it was really a chapter and verse maintenance guide for my old stove. These stoves were used in many households of rural France until relatively recently. Contemporary updated recipes give exact temperatures, times, etc. but the old ones give descriptives that fall right in line with wood stove cooking. Cooking this way has helped me come to a closer understanding of the techniques that I learned to execute with my modern equipment. Things are more instinctive with this kind of stove. You know when it is logical and necessary to use a bain marie, for instance, and come to a better understanding of what kind of heat is best for braising. The big cast iron cooktop’s natural heat zones gives just as much control as any contemporary piece of equipment.

Photography by Lucy Vanel.

Photography by Lucy Vanel.

In what way do you feel your vacation cooking style differs from your everyday cooking style?

Vacations in the mountains entail fires that are lit in the morning and burn all day, which is not the case at home in the city. When we leave to go walking and foraging, we close down the vents to keep the fire going while we’re gone, and then stoke it up good and hot when we get back. Often I’ll leave a pot simmering, things pulled to the edge of the stove to cook slowly, or put a loaf of bread or a cake in and leave it to cook from the residual heat, so that when we get back we’ve got warm bread or a cake waiting. When we’re on vacation, I can easily cook dishes that take several days to do, because the steps involved in these kinds of dishes roll out naturally. There is always something cooking when we’re in the mountains.

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Cooking on Vacation by Heidi Swanson

This is part of a series of Q&A’s about cooking on vacation. The complete list of posts in this series is available here.

Heidi Swanson is the talented writer and photographer behind the blog 101 Cookbooks, which never ceases to inspire me with its quietly elegant recipes promoting natural, whole foods, and the lifestyle to match. Heidi lives in San Francisco, and her most recently published cookbook is the gorgeous Super Natural Every Day.

Here she tells us about eating sheep’s milk ricotta in Rome, her different strategies for flight-based and wheel-based travel, and her sister’s special talent for catching crawdads.

Are you taking a vacation this summer? Will you have a chance to cook while there?

We drove from San Francisco to Marfa, Texas to kick off the summer, and are planning on a couple weeks in London at some point soon. We also tend to do a fair amount of impromptu camping alone the coast here in California. And yes! We do make an effort to cook when we travel. It’s part of the adventure. On road trips, or while camping, we bring a cooler and a little stove so we can shop and cook all along the way – rest stops, parking lots, beaches, whatever. We also try rent apartments when we’re in far-flung cities, so there is access to a kitchen.

In what way do you feel your vacation cooking style differs from your everyday cooking style?

It’s very similar, but usually prepared with whatever is the opposite of a well-stocked kitchen. A few years back, I got it in my head that I wanted to visit more great cities. So, that has been the theme of our “flight-based” travel as of late. “Wheel-based” travel still includes road trips and closer-to-home adventures. But in either scenario, we’re on the go a lot, and at the mercy of the propane stove or vacation kitchen. Not always ideal. Is it me, or do vacation rentals seem to universally stock their kitchens terrible equipment? I mean, it’s sad to say, but I sometimes find myself identifying a favorite pot or pan in a kitchen (the best of the worst), and decide what to cook based on that.

On a road trip, I’ll pack a cutting board, my knife, bottle opener, one skillet, maybe a pot. And a French press. That comes too. Then I try to find, and use, what’s good and local on the ingredient front. Last year when we rented an apartment In Rome, I couldn’t get enough of the sheep-milk ricotta and fresh egg pastas. The markets were full of shell beans, arugula, and porcini mushrooms. So I start there, and pull things together in a very impromptu fashion.

Are there utensils or ingredients you always take with you when you go on vacation?

I bring a few basics if we’re driving, so I don’t have to buy duplicates. Things like olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt. Essentials.

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Cooking on Vacation by Derrick Schneider

This is part of a series of Q&A’s about cooking on vacation. The complete list of posts in this series is available here.

Derrick Schneider is an Oakland-based programmer, puzzle designer, and writer who created one of the first food blogs ever, An Obsession With Food, which I credit for giving me the blogging bug back in the day. Derrick is a regular contributor to the Art of Eating, among other publications, and his passion for wine has led him to teach wine tasting classes. He’s also developed a meal planning application for the iPhone called Mise en Place.

Here he tells us about
cooking a birthday dinner in Paris, whether or not to travel with your own wine vinegar, and panzanella.

Did you take a vacation this summer, and did you have a chance to cook while there?

We just got back from a road trip to Southern California and Big Sur, but it was all hotels and restaurants. Other than that, alas, we have nothing planned for the summer. 

Are there utensils or ingredients you always take with you when you go on vacation? If so, what are they? If not, what do you unfailingly regret not taking?

My chef’s knife is a frequent stowaway in my luggage, of course, but I also bring a good pair of kitchen tongs. When we stayed with my mom and her husband in Provence for a bit, they were at first a bit amused by the tongs. But once they saw how often I used them, they were so delighted that we bought them their own set as a present.

But I do always end up with one regret: not bringing my own wine vinegar. If an apartment has wine vinegar, it’s the wan, pale commercial stuff. But I always think, “Oh, I can get by with regular vinegar for a bit.” I suppose it’s at least a good reminder of how good my own is!

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Cooking on Vacation by Luisa Weiss

This is part of a series of Q&A’s about cooking on vacation. The complete list of posts in this series is available here.

Luisa Weiss is a New York writer currently based in Berlin, and the author of the wonderful blog The Wednesday Chef, which documents her cooking life with inimitable verve and style. She was kind enough to answer my questions just as she was nearing the deadline for the manuscript of her much-anticipated first book, tentatively titled My Berlin Kitchen.

Here she tells us about the Earl Grey in her luggage, mother-daughter grilling, and cooking one’s own catch.

Are you taking a vacation this summer? Will you have a chance to cook while there?

My husband and I are going on our honeymoon in September. We’re staying at a cousin’s house on an island in Greece for a week before heading on to a few other stops including Athens. While we’re on the island, we’ll definitely be cooking at least once a day. I’m excited to see what the produce markets are like there and I can’t wait to try some of Greece’s bitter greens. It’s tough finding really good vegetables in Berlin, where I live, and I have a weakness for bitter greens. Also fish! And wild oregano! I’m hungry.

Are there utensils or ingredients you always take with you when you go on vacation? If so, what are they? If not, what do you unfailingly regret not taking?

I bring loose Earl Grey tea, because I love it for breakfast in the morning and I usually bring one sharp knife, just in case the place I’m staying at doesn’t have one. Otherwise, for me, vacation is about relaxing and letting go, and that means relaxing about the cooking environment, too.

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Cooking on Vacation by Molly Wizenberg

This is part of a series of Q&A’s about cooking on vacation. The complete list of posts in this series is available here.

Molly Wizenberg is the author of the blog Orangette, which glows with her unique writing voice. She has published a best-selling memoir called A Homemade Life, and she and her husband Brandon Pettit have created a well-loved pizza place in Seattle called Delancey, where I hope to dine some day. Molly co-hosts a weekly podcast called Spilled Milk with partner-in-crime Matthew Amster-Burton, and as if all of this wasn’t keeping her busy enough, she is now working on her second book.

Here she tells us about mish-mash lunches, cooking in Saint-Emilion, and a special kind of meatball.

Did you take a vacation this summer, and did you have a chance to cook while there?

I took a trip to Italy with my mom in late June. Brandon and I had been invited to a friend’s wedding near Urbino, in the Marche, but he needed to stay home to look after our restaurant, and I didn’t want to go by myself, so I brought my mom into the plan. We wound up flying into Rome, driving to Urbino, spending four nights there and doing day trips all around the area, and then driving down the Adriatic coast to Puglia, where we spent four nights near Ostuni. We didn’t do any cooking – we were in a hotel in Urbino and then a masseria in Puglia – but we did a LOT of eating: fava puree with wild chicories, fried zucchini blossoms, loads of olive oil, capocollo, fresh green figs as big as my fist. Incredible.

In what way do you feel your vacation cooking style differs from your everyday cooking style?

My Italy trip was an exception to the norm, because what I really love is to rent an apartment, cook a lot, and save most of our money for a couple of nice nights out. I love the feeling of cooking on vacation. I’ll find some ingredient that I can’t get in Seattle, and that always gets my juices going. In general, it’s an issue of time: when we’re on vacation, there’s just more of it. There’s more time to daydream about what we might make or eat. Even if we’re not really cooking per se – just collecting items for a picnic or a lazy mish-mash lunch – I feel particularly engaged by food on vacation. I feel more awake to flavors and smells and new ideas. I feel like I even taste things differently.

Are there utensils or ingredients you always take with you when you go on vacation? If so, what are they? If not, what do you unfailingly regret not taking?

If we’re traveling by car, a couple of good knives are a must. It’s a real buzzkill to get to a picnic site or a friend’s cabin and have only dull knives to work with! But if we’re traveling by plane, we just cross our fingers and wing it.

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