Cooking on Vacation by Heidi Swanson

Photography by Wayne Bremser.

This is part of a series of Q&A’s about cooking on vacation. The complete list of posts in this series is available here.

Heidi Swanson is the talented writer and photographer behind the blog 101 Cookbooks, which never ceases to inspire me with its quietly elegant recipes promoting natural, whole foods, and the lifestyle to match. Heidi lives in San Francisco, and her most recently published cookbook is the gorgeous Super Natural Every Day.

Here she tells us about eating sheep’s milk ricotta in Rome, her different strategies for flight-based and wheel-based travel, and her sister’s special talent for catching crawdads.

Are you taking a vacation this summer? Will you have a chance to cook while there?

We drove from San Francisco to Marfa, Texas to kick off the summer, and are planning on a couple weeks in London at some point soon. We also tend to do a fair amount of impromptu camping alone the coast here in California. And yes! We do make an effort to cook when we travel. It’s part of the adventure. On road trips, or while camping, we bring a cooler and a little stove so we can shop and cook all along the way – rest stops, parking lots, beaches, whatever. We also try rent apartments when we’re in far-flung cities, so there is access to a kitchen.

In what way do you feel your vacation cooking style differs from your everyday cooking style?

It’s very similar, but usually prepared with whatever is the opposite of a well-stocked kitchen. A few years back, I got it in my head that I wanted to visit more great cities. So, that has been the theme of our “flight-based” travel as of late. “Wheel-based” travel still includes road trips and closer-to-home adventures. But in either scenario, we’re on the go a lot, and at the mercy of the propane stove or vacation kitchen. Not always ideal. Is it me, or do vacation rentals seem to universally stock their kitchens terrible equipment? I mean, it’s sad to say, but I sometimes find myself identifying a favorite pot or pan in a kitchen (the best of the worst), and decide what to cook based on that.

On a road trip, I’ll pack a cutting board, my knife, bottle opener, one skillet, maybe a pot. And a French press. That comes too. Then I try to find, and use, what’s good and local on the ingredient front. Last year when we rented an apartment In Rome, I couldn’t get enough of the sheep-milk ricotta and fresh egg pastas. The markets were full of shell beans, arugula, and porcini mushrooms. So I start there, and pull things together in a very impromptu fashion.

Are there utensils or ingredients you always take with you when you go on vacation?

I bring a few basics if we’re driving, so I don’t have to buy duplicates. Things like olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt. Essentials.

What is your best vacation cooking memory? And your worst?

We would spend a few weeks each summer at Lake Tahoe. My sister Heather (who was six or seven at the time) would catch crawdads off the pier at night. We’d eagerly pull up the traps each morning and count. She was good at it, I’ll say that. She’d catch so many, people would come from neighboring beaches to try to buy them off her. But she liked to let them go – and typically turned her catch back into the lake, unless crawdad night was near. My dad would pick one night each vacation when he’d cook up a big pot of the poor bastards for whoever happened to be at the cabin. I never ate any, but I loved watching the whole scene unfold.

A vacation memory I’m not eager to repeat? We camped in primitive tents in the Serengeti many years ago. And while the food was flat-out bad, what really made an impression was the hyenas chattering to each other as they circled the camp. And the guys standing around with guns.

Do you have a tip or saving-grace recipe that makes your kitchen life easier while on vacation?

I try to do a good amount of prep ahead of time. I love to cook, but I also like to lounge around and be lazy if I feel like it. So, I’ll do things like pre-measure dry ingredients for pancakes or waffles into a container. Same thing if I’m going to bake a cake or quick bread. And I bring lots of fun stuff in Mason jars — this time of year it’d be roasted tomatoes, quick pickles, or some homemade blueberry maple syrup, dips, etc. That way it’s easy to throw tasty stuff together because you have good components to start with.

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