Taking Stock

Guac and salsa and chips with a beer on the deck. Looking at the ocean. But you can't see the ocean in this pic.

We asked our friend, Chef, what she brings on vacation. If you rent a beach house—and are not in the demographic worried about having an appropriately sized table for beer pong—this is an important question.

If you’re tooling around Ireland, it’s about pubs along the way. If you’re vacationing in Italy your food questions are local wines and food, unless you rent a villa. Then you are renting a kitchen staff. My dream is to charm my way into nona’s kitchen and leave with both an appreciation and mastery of her techniques.

At the beach house, you find a blank canvas with unknown brushes, paints and palette. Actually, the paints are known. They are BYO.

The kitchen is supply free. There may be a filled salt and pepper shaker, and the salt may be sticking together, otherwise it’s empty cupboards. Last time I moved into a house and didn’t have a supply of mustards and vinegars, spices and sugars, and oil, flour and maple syrup was—let me think. Yup. It was the first time I moved as an adult. The second time, I packed up and moved my accumulated larder.

I’ve packed up the oregano and sage, rosemary and thyme, the cumin and chili powder, the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, and the 3 vinegars and two oils each move until I moved into this house a generation ago.

My current staples include the above plus capers, roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes, anchovies and anchovy paste, four or five different types of nuts, golden and Thompson raisins, dried cranberries, cans and cans of beans of various colors and sizes, artichokes, 4 more types of vinegars, additional grades of olive oil, yellow and brown and rustic country and Dijon mustards, horseradish, fish sauce, sriracha and Tabasco, and a hearty and hefty addition of jarred spices. There’s jasmine rice, sushi rice, abririo rice and rice rice. There is white flour, wheat flour, coconut flour and corn meal—both coarse and fine. There’s lentils—black and green; quinoa—regular and tricolored; some farro; and an I interesting grain mixture that I like. I’m sure this list, as long as it is, is very incomplete.

Even with cupboards filled, there’s frequently something I need. And, many other days, nothing to cook.

Rolling into the beach house is all about minimalist stocking for minimalist cooking. The eating out options are sparse, and somewhat gross, so eating in is big.

While some beach cooks are into disposable stocking—that is to throw out barely used jars of ketchup, mayo, pickles, salad dressing, and the specialty gourmet splurge-on-account-of, well, vacation—I just can’t. And The Spouse would secretly pack it all to bring back home where I will throw out the tiny jars of spoilt goods when he’s sleeping. I like that even less.

Bring more, you advise. I just can’t pack up my kitchen. See above re: the sisterhood of the traveling pantry. Not doing it. And I’d forget something and have to buy it and then end up with two at home. Or three. I’m still at a loss as to why I had 3 jars of paprika and 3 of that disgusting dried lemon peel at home.

So for my week of vaycay meals I settle on olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon, fresh cracked pepper, sea salt, garlic, onions and a few sprigs of fresh thyme from the produce section. Add some lemon and lime zest—those fruits are critical for drinks!—and I’m stocked.

So when I asked Chef what she brings, I was surprised to hear her say, a knife. A tool! But she is damn right. The knives—and most of the culinary tools in the rental
kitchen—are usually both plentiful and dull. And mostly serrated. Who has six serrated to one regular knife? Heathens!

Using the rental kitchen “sharps,” I suffer though trying to chop garlic fine. My knife sides off the side of the onion. Another knife pummels verses slices the tomato. Oh, for a good knife!

But the wine is good. The vegetables are fresh. The fish market—when you find the one with the local catch—is perfect. And the creative challenge of a meal for foodies with few staples is well worth the fun. Especially because the wine is good. Seriously, I’m on vacation, but not on a vacation from good food. And did I mention the wine? I did, didn’t I? It’s good. It’s all good.

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