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.
What is your best vacation cooking memory?
I’ve got a ton of best vacation eating memories (like tiny sea snails in tomato sauce at New Year’s Eve one year that we had to eat with a toothpick! or the time my family made homemade gnocchi for 25 people and we ate in shifts), but one of my favorite memories about cooking goes back to a few years ago when I grilled fish for some friends from England visiting our house in Italy. My mother had just bought a charcoal grill and neither one of us really knew what we were doing.
I bought two gleaming dorade at the market earlier that day and then we stuffed them with slices of lemons and fresh bay leaves before grilling them whole. We had no real idea if we were doing it right or not and I’m not really sure it was the best grilled fish the world had ever known, but it was an unforgettable night, with the sun setting in one corner and our friends pouring endless glasses of white wine in the other and the two of us cackling our heads off at our ineptitude. It was a lot of fun.
And your worst?
About six years ago, I took a trip to Prince Edward Island with my boyfriend. We went fishing for mackerel one afternoon with a small group of people. The captain of the boat we were on cleaned and gutted the fish for us and when we disembarked the boat, handed us each a plastic sack full of small fish filets. I’d never fished before and was surprised at how distressing I’d found the whole experience of hooking a fish and pulling it in to its fate.
At home, I floured and fried the filets and to my horror, the house, a rental that stank of cat litter, filled with the most pungent, fishiest smell. That stench combined with the cat litter and my still-uneasy nerves from earlier in the day were a recipe for disaster. After one bite, we threw out the fish I’d cooked and the remainder of the raw filets, too, and had cereal for dinner.
Do you have a tip or saving-grace recipe that makes your kitchen life easier while on vacation?
I think the trick is to think simply. Vacation is about unwinding, for me, not trying out complicated new meals. There’s always spaghetti. You need very little to make a good spaghetti dinner other than a clove of garlic, some olive oil and an anchovy or chili pepper or two. If you’ve got a can of tomatoes, you’re in even better shape. There are always eggs and a handful of herbs for a simple frittata. And there’s always salad, which is a staple for summertime meals. Best of all? On vacation, cocktails during dinner prep are mandatory.