Cooking at home…on vacation

Reader Contribution by Ilene White Freedman
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What do you pack for your tropical vacation? Sundress, sandals, sunhat, toothbrush, bathing suit, pancake mix, herbs, sprouting seeds. Wait … what?

Yep, I did this. And I’m aware, some of you think I’m nuts. You’re thinking, “Loosen up, take a cooking break, go to a restaurant.” But some of you, and you know who you are, pack like this too. Or want to pack like this for your next trip.

I like to cook on vacation. I want to eat and feel healthy on a trip, I want to save money, and I’d rather spend time in the kitchen than in a restaurant. So we try to rent a place with a full kitchen and hope that “full kitchen” means baking pans and the works. But even if they think no vacationer will ever want a rolling pin on their trip, the improvising is half the fun of cooking in a rental kitchen.

Your list of essentials may look different, but here are some highlights from my culinary suitcase:

A Ziploc of herbs and spices — little jars of garam masala and curry powder, and rosemary and oregano from the garden. I could live without them, but rental kitchens often only stock salt and pepper. I have eaten very plain meals on previous trips for this reason. But not this trip! Twice we prepared fresh, local-caught red snapper, once with garam masala on the grill, and the next day with a curry rice and onions. The herbs were a great accent that linger on my memory in a spicey way. Spices were worth their suitcase space and more.

Sprouting Seeds: Grow your own on vacation? Yep! I sprouted my own sprouts in a glass drinking jar. This makes me grin, but the tasty healthy salad was worth it. If you are staying in one location for three days, you have time. I brought sprouts and a little cotton mesh bag to strain the sprouts. Just add water. HERE are the details on how to sprout.

Homemade pancake mix in a Ziploc bag: We enjoyed buckwheat pancakes with local bananas for breakfast. I make my own mix, but it could have easily been a purchased mix. The trick is that my mix needs to be dairy- and gluten-free. You can imagine the trouble I would have finding gluten-free products in Puerto Rico. This is the item that inspired the culinary packing list.

Homemade Pizza Mix in another Ziploc bag: I wrote the cooking instructions on the bag with a permanent pen. Pizza Night turned out to be a highlight. In the morning, I prepared the mix, adding liquids and stirring in a big bowl. This is a recipe from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes A Day. It rises for two hours and is ready to go or save it in the fridge. This recipe is gluten-free but even if you choose the gluten recipe, there’s still no kneading required. The flexibility of this mix made it vacation-friendly. You can pull it out of the fridge and make pizza the same day or within the week. You can double the recipe and use it twice throughout your week. On our Pizza Day, we went off on adventures and came back in time for me to make pizzas while Phil took the kids to the pool. I rolled out the dough with a smooth drinking glass, over plastic wrap. Pizza sauce? A tiny jar of tomato paste, ketchup, onions, garlic, oregano. Not like homegrown at home, but hey, you can’t bring everything in your suitcase. The topping highlight was papaya, grown only yards from the kitchen I baked it in. Please tell me if you have ever had papaya pizza, I need to know. It was so good. Do you think papaya I buy in Maryland can repeat this delicacy? Somehow, I’m not so sure.

So you might be asking: Did any of my food items get confiscated by airport security? Only my hummus. Do not bring spreads on the airplane. Spreads are the newest very dangerous medium. You don’t know what folks can hide in a hummus spread. Liquids are a well-known no-no, but spreads were new to me. Limit food items to dry goods and you should be fine, but check the regulations for your airline on their website.

Read more about our trip to Puerto Rico and eating close to the source on my blog entry titled Knowing where your food comes from …on vacation.

Photos: Ilene White Freedman

Ilene White Freedman operates an organic CSA farm with her husband in Frederick, Maryland. She blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life at, easy to follow from our Facebook Page. For more about the farm, go to