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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Cooking on Vacation

To keep you entertained while I take a little break, I’ve asked a few of my favorite bloggers and friends to tell me about the kind of cooking they do on vacation, whether they’re visiting friends or family, renting a place, camping, etc. I wasn’t necessarily looking for anything fancy, and was just as interested in the lazy stuff one cooks under those circumstances.

I’ll be publishing this Q&A series until the end of the month, and I hope you’ll be as inspired and delighted as I am by my guests’ answers. If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel transported by the stories they shared from their nomadic kitchens — and I hope you’ll chime in with your own.

A companion series will be running on the French version of Chocolate & Zucchini, so if you read French, you’re in for a double treat.

Thanks to all my guests for taking time out of their busy summers to participate, and to you for reading. Be well and see you soon!

How the Blind Cook

David E. Price and guide dog Plymouth in Gigondas

David E. Price and guide dog Plymouth in Gigondas

A few months ago, I received an unusual email from an American reader of Chocolate & Zucchini, David E. Price, a former geologist and now computer programmer who goes to graduate school in Salt Lake City, and is an enthusiastic cook.

David explained that he had purchased copies of my books but that — and here comes the unusual part — because he was blind, he was wondering if there was a computer-readable version he could have access to: he was otherwise going to scan the pages and run them through a character recognition program, but he worried that the mix of French and English terms, as well as the fractions in the measurements, might make the resulting recipes inaccurate.

An arrangement was found with my publisher, and once that was taken care of, David and I continued our email conversation. In particular, I asked him about the accessibility of C&Z, and whether there was anything I could change to make it easier for the blind to read; there was, and I altered the code accordingly*.

And then, although I was a little hesitant to raise the topic, I had to admit I was curious to learn about the practicalities of cooking without vision. I had never really stopped to wonder if and how it was possible, and I was admirative, to say the least: it certainly took skill, perseverance, and a great love of food to cook and bake without relying on your eyes.

It was a thought-provoking exchange and I was sure other cooks would feel the same way, so I asked David if he would submit himself to a Q&A about the challenges he faces in the kitchen every day. His answers are below; thank you, David, for inviting us into your kitchen.

* If you’d like to learn more about this, read the page David put together about web accessibility.

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On Meeting Sadaharu Aoki

Sadaharu Aoki

Let me tell you this: girls aren’t what they used to be. Present them with a spiffy British actor who knows how to bake an apple crumble, and they will smile, shake the actor’s hand (twice), and walk away with a good story, yes, but their heart unstirred.

Allow them to spend half a day with a famous pastry chef, however, and you will get a rather eloquent embodiment of glee.

This opportunity was brought to me on a dessert plate by my friend Louisa: she was in Paris with a television crew to film an episode for the upcoming season of Diary of a Foodie, and she asked if I’d be willing to appear in the segment on Sadaharu Aoki.

At this point, I feel compelled to state that I am vehemently opposed to the use of the term foodie, a word that makes me cringe so deeply my fingers refuse to type this combination of letters and I have to copy-paste it. But I love Louisa, I had met part of the crew last summer, and hanging out with them in Aoki’s lab while he showed us stuff sounded like a fine use of my time, so I said yes.

And indeed, a terrific afternoon it was: my role was simply to be curious, ask the chef about his work, his pastries, and his creative process, and translate our exchanges from French to English for the camera.

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