Sunday, August 9, 2009

Don't Leave Home Without It

The boat sails, the wind blows, and we are bound for the island.  This year we are vacationing at Martha's Vineyard, the prettiest, most charming place on the planet.  I love the flowers that spill from every corner, lagoons that drift between the bays, and smell of the briny ocean.  So of course, the first place I head to once on island is...the kitchen.  Yes, the kitchen.  

Lady did you forget your meds you say?  No, it's just that I love to cook, especially when away, and what makes my vacation rental a home is the kitchen.  It's where everyone gathers at the end of a long, sun filled day.  It's where the kids play and draw on rainy afternoons.  It's where I bring my loot from the local farm stands and antique stores.  And it is where I cook and dream all the time.  I really enjoy learning my way around someone else's kitchen.  There is something deliciously vicarious about searching for pots and pans, firing up an unfamiliar stove or grill, and serving on foreign plates.  The smell of coffee brewing on someone else' pot.  The hunt for sugar, flour, and other basics.  Hidden treasures left behind waiting to be discovered, like real maple syrup, fine teas, unexpected spices, or a bottle of top notch hot sauce.  

And yet...there is always something missing.  It is unusual to find high quality kitchen items at a rental house; the owner's probably figure it is best to leave things out that may get broken or stolen.  So you tend to get a lot of low rent dutch ovens with missing tops, 3 of the original 8 scratched plastic cooking utensils, and mismatched tin cutlery.  And that is OK, because it is a vacation and only for an all to short while.  But there are a few things that I cannot cook without, and must come with me wherever I roam.  Here's what I bring assuming I remember and can fit it in the car:

  • Cutting board: With 2 young children, I spend a lot of time peeling and cutting things into teeny tiny pieces. That in addition to regular cooking requires a good board, preferably wood.  The vacation house variety tends to be odd shaped and plastic, although this year we got lucky with a well sized maple slab.  Doubly lucky since I forgot my board on the counter at home.
  • Knives: One for chopping, one for paring.  If not, at last bring a small knife sharpener, as the ginsus you find in the drawer are going to be duller than a tax seminar.  
  • Whisk: Nothing fancy, just a small whisk is all I need. My wrist gets tired from trying to fake it with the cheap forks.  
  • Handheld blender: I love my little Braun Multiquick.  It comes with an immersion blade, whip, and chopping attachments, all for less than $40.  Covers as a blender, food processor, and mixer.  Although I must say that if the house has any of these appliances I will try them; it is a blast from the past breaking out a LaMachine.
  • Grater: Again, keep it simple.  Something thing and small that can grate cheese or zest a lemon.  Trying to finagle one of those industrial four-sided graters in the car is a recipe for an angry husband and ripped luggage.
  • Tongs: Planning to make corn?  Enough said. 
  • Cookbook: I like to bring one or buy one when away.  This year I took the Black Dog cookbook, which is nice and local, and has great summer recipes.  
  • Spatula: I bring my large metal one with the thin but hard edge.  Learned to do so the year I made pancakes while away, and could not flip them with the mother f*^$*(ing thing they called a spatula.  Had to supplement with a knife.  Never again. 
  • Spices: You can usually count on iodized salt and some pepper.  After that, it is hit or miss.  I bring garlic powder, paprika, chipotle chili pepper, cayenne pepper, kosher salt, ginger, and cinnamon.
  • Oven mitts: How many times have I burned myself with the less than substantial gloves available at a rental? Enough to know better.  Bring your own or if you forget, use it as an excuse to pick up some cute new ones at the local home goods shops. You were going anyway, right?

What do you bring and why?  Comment below, and thank you for your feedback.  


  1. I am not yet at the rental house/cooking for a family on vacation stage of life (I still don't want to cook much on vacation, I admit it). However, I do sort of like the necessary resourcefullness and camping-trip feel that comes from cooking in an unfamiliar, less well-stocked kitchen - it sort of reminds me of small NYC kitchen cooking as well. Can't close the oven door all the way when using a normal size baking sheet? Crack the door and crank up the heat! There was an article about vacation rental cooking in the Times last week - apparently a cast-iron skillet is key. Enjoy the kitchen and the vacation!

  2. I will add one more thing to the list. Lobster crackers and those small forks. We rent our vacation house in Newport RI. Every year we do at least one lobser bake and we are always having to buy shellfish crackers because we can't find them in the house. Otherwise I will not pack any kitchen tools, simply because I know I will leave them behind.

    However, for those heading north, I do recommend bringing an empty cooler and stopping at Stew Leonard's along the way.

  3. I love these posts! Great ideas, and Jess I love the NYC small kitchen analogy. It is spot on. Deb, we already bought those little crackers because J loves to eat them and E likes to hoard them.

  4. Julie, I'm having so much fun with your blog! Great idea. I thought of another rental kitchen essential - a pepper mill. It's one of my must-haves and lots of places don't have one...