I have wanted to share these thoughts for a while now because seriously people? COOKING IN A VACATION HOME BE HARD. No, not hard like distilling your own water from a dirty puddle or hard like making your own shoes out of tires and your own flesh. Not hard like trying to feed your family with food stamps or wading through a pile of medical bills because you did something like break your leg whilst being uninsured. I get that. In fact, I've had a few sentences of this typed on here since I left for vacation because I thought it was a worthy subject, one that might help one of you guys with a real issue that you may have. But then I started seeing a lot of comments on other sites from what I like to call, "The PRIVILEGED! Police." If you haven't seen this, bless your heart. You've been doing something worthwhile with your life. Basically, The PP is the most politically correct group of internet commenters ever, like if the ACLU knocked up Jezebel and then Jezebel had the most amazing at home water birth while listening to music purchased from that feminist bookstore from Portlandia. The Privileged! Police would be the product of that water birth. And what they do is hang around websites and when someone makes a comment that reflects certain benefits they have received in life and perhaps does not show as much empathy for someone else because of this, (being white or able bodied or with a home are all common signs of "privilege"), they call the person out. And really, that's a noble pursuit in many ways. We all do need to be reminded (tactfully) that just being born healthy and in a society or community that values our lives is kind of like hitting the lottery, only you win it everyday, all day.
BUT. But. Some people take it a little far. Not all the people. Some people. Just as with everything. So instead of having a reasonable conversation about things, you end up with a lot of people just using "PRIVILEGED" as a code word for "JACKASS." And it gets almost comical. But still...all I could think about when writing this was "PRIVILEGED."
And, yes, I am. I grew up in a white middle class family. My mom was a wonderful mom who taught me how to cook and to value education above all things. I had clothes growing up, and I never went hungry. I went on vacation every year, usually to the mountains with my dad and the beach with my mom. We were never rich by any stretch of the imagination. And I DEFINITELY am not wealthy right now (my student loan companies would be happy to tell you that). But I do understand that I have more than others. And that any personal things that I might have now have come from being born with all the benefits that I laid out above.
So this is a long way of saying, I get it. But I'm writing it anyway, because well, there are maybe some other jackholes out there who might want to talk about cooking in a vacation house.
(Which makes me wonder...say Mitt Romney wants to buy a new car elevator for his 15th house in La Jolla. Where does he go for that information? Are there car elevator blogs out there? Do they have "PRIVILEGED!" disclaimers? God, I hope they do, otherwise commenter FREEGANJILL from Poughkeepsie is going to lay into them SO HARD.)
ANYWAY...one time on my honeymoon, my husband and I decided to stay in and fix dinner together. We had lived together for a while before that and well, had two kids already (because we'se sinners, y'all), so there was none of this beginners-learning-to-live-alongside-each-other stuff. We were a finely oiled machine in the kitchen in many ways. We were at the beach, so we went to the market and bought these lovely shrimp, OMG I still remember how gorgeous those things were. I decided to whip up some pasta with fresh tomatoes to go along side. So we're cooking and we're laughing and we're drinking wine and we're sunburnt and it's all sweet, kind of like that scene in Annie Hall with the lobster except the shrimp were most certainly deceased. And I remember it like it was yesterday: Matt goes, "Your pasta's done." And I say something like, "Ok, get the colander." So he looks around and says, "There is no colander." And I laugh because GOD WHO DOESN'T HAVE A COLANDER. That's like not having a toilet paper holder. Or sheets. It HAS to be there, I think. MEN. They just cannot find things, amirite? I start looking for the colander myself. And yeah, it's not there.
And this is how I learned that if you have some boiling pasta and need to drain it, a newlywed (buzzed) husband holding a kitchen towel over the sink is a really sorry way to do it.
These are the problems one runs into when you attempt to cook a proper meal in a vacation home. Peeling nonstick pans. Plastic mixing bowls that were stained with marinara sauce sometime during the late 90's. The knives that God forgot. And all this is not to say that the owners of rental homes are some kind of negligent bunch. I imagine it is crazy hard to keep up with all of your crap because we as humans? We suck. We fuck up stuff for the pastime. Especially when it is technically not ours to start out with.
Therefore, it is best to come prepared. And this year, after many years of trying, I think I finally managed that. And here's what I did.
First, I got a really, really cheap open top plastic tote thing from the dollar store. You don't want anything large, but you do want an open top so that you can just throw stuff into it before you leave and when you pack up to go back home--you don't want to have to diligently pack, you want to be able to throw. And then I made myself a kit. You'll want to think of a few meals you might cook ahead of time, even if they are easy things like breakfasts and sandwiches. And obviously, you are only putting in things that are non-perishable. Here's what I came up with:
1. Cast iron skillet--large. This is my kitchen workhorse, so I knew I could make breakfast in it (eggs, bacon, pancakes) and then if, worse comes to worse and we can't use the grill because of rain, I can sear a mean steak in it. Try to think of a pan like this that you use often and take it. I can guarantee you right now that the pans the rental has will be absolute shit. No one puts their All Clad cookware in a vacation rental, you guys. And no, you do not want to bring your whole set. You are on vacation. One pan will work fine.
3. Two decent knives wrapped in kitchen towels--one with a serrated edge and one more like a chef's knife. Most rentals will have steak knives because I guess they assume people eat steak on vacation. Yummm, steak.
4. Olive oil.
5. Salt and pepper. At the beach that my mom and I go to, we always go to the grocery store first thing after arriving on Saturday, and the S&P section is always raided. Bring your own. There is no sense in buying extra. Save that cash for ice cream.
6. Lemons. That's what the microplaner is for, incidentally. Lemons are multi-purpose--they taste great in a marinaded, can go in your drink, can be zested into pancake mix, put on an apple to preserve it once sliced, or even used to clean up the kitchen and microwave. Plus, they are cheap. Grab a couple.
8. Homemade spice blends. This was the real A HA! moment of my packing. If you want to do "serious" cooking while on vacation, you'll need spices. But who wants to do serious cooking? And really, who wants to purchase all the spices you'll need just for a teaspoon of this or that? We picked out a couple of blends ahead of time, stirred them up and packed them in empty spice jars to take with us. For our needs, we decided on an espresso steak rub (yummmm, steak), my husband's BBQ rub and a Jamaican spice blend. And think outside the block with it. I discovered that the bbq rub was really tasty on very thinly sliced red potatoes that were then coated in cooking spray and then roasted in the oven. The Jamaican spices added some fun to burgers and grilled pineapple rings.
9. Cooking spray.
10. Charcoal and lighter fluid if you intend on grilling, and you know you do. (We stayed in a cabin once that had a gas grill on a closed in patio next to the hot tub and that was AWESOME, but most places just have the traditional "camp" style grill like you find in a park. It will definitely get the job done.)
It might seem like a lot, but this was all super easy to round up, and a lot easier and cheaper than shopping for it once on vacation.
Now, once you are there, you really don't want to spend your entire vacation cooking. And you really shouldn't. Steaks and burgers are great choices because they don't require a lot of clean up or ingredients and taste really, really good. In the past, I have even brought a couple of things to get my mind, and my shortcuts, working. Homemade cinnamon bread (my Sam's favorite) is a tasty snack to have on hand, but makes really good french toast for Sunday morning. Also, bringing a BIG premade sandwich is a great thing to have on hand: you can bring it with you and then once you arrive, you don't have to worry about going back out to dinner or to the store and can step it up with the relaxing already. My mom makes a great one on a big Italian bread that has ham, turkey, veggies, Italian dressing and marinated artichoke hearts. You make it the night before you leave, wrap it in plastic wrap and aluminum foil, and then tote it in a cooler the next day. It just gets better as it sits. Gabby's favorite is this blend: roast beef, sliced sharp cheddar, tomatoes and thin red onion slices on a hard French baguette with a sauce made from mayo and Dijon mustard. Same general idea on that one. Once you arrive, you just slice everyone off a hunk, serve it up with chips, and VOILA. Dinner is served.
Now some will read this and say that this defeats the purpose of vacation, that a vacation is about relaxation and eating out. And I get that. My mom and I have a TYPED LIST of the restaurants we HAVE to hit next week while we are at the beach. But here's the thing: some nights you just don't feel like getting dressed to go out for dinner. And your kids don't either. And the big difference between you and them is that if you feel a little sluggish during dinner, you'll be fine. Your child, however, will morph into Charlie Sheen on a three day coke bender. So staying in and fixing something simple is INFINITELY better than that scenario. And this is even discounting the ever popular financial motive to cook-in. For my family of 5 to eat in a full-service restaurant, we're looking at dropping at least $75. To eat burgers off the grill at the cabin: considerably less.
And I reinterate: you don't have to make it fancy. Full confession: I used packaged pancake mix on our trip, the kind you only have to add water to. I don't think I've EVER done that. And while I made considerable jokes about our chemical laden breakfast, it was really good. Everything tastes good when you're on vacation!
Also? Check for a colander before you make pasta. Third degree burns are forever.
(No, Matt did not get a third degree burn. He did get splashed a little, but that was nothing compared to the sunburn he got from laying on the beach like a slug and reading Harry Potter. Ah, young love!)