I'm away this week with my family on Lake Michigan. As I
prepared for our trip, I stumbled on a question all us cooks on
vacation have to ponder: what to pack? I don't mean the
usual stuff: swimsuit, sunscreen, a cheap novel or two. I
mean: what to pack from the kitchen? knowing that
kitchens away from home are full of surprises and--even more
Usually I bring a good knife, but this time I couldn't be
bothered. Instead, I grabbed a battered old shoebox of my
daughter's, knelt in front of the spice cabinet and asked: "What
can I not live without?"
The first answer was obvious: cumin. I think whole cumin
is the first spice you will not find in a summer rental--although
there might be an aged, odorless bottle of ground cumin from 5
years ago gathering dust on the shelf. Next I grabbed some
Aleppo pepper and some hulled, white sesame seeds, because even the
dullest, plainest dish will seem more interesting if I've got one
As I packed, I got increasingly paranoid and biased. What
if there are no fresh herbs in the Midwest? I threw in the
dried thyme and oregano. What if I need to make something
with white pepper? What if I don't have bay leaves? I
always don't have bay leaves when I need them, so it
follows I will need them on vacation. And it's always
impossible to find the dried chile you want. So I grabbed a
fistful of arból chiles and threw them in the bottom, with the Wet
Ones. I might not find the chiles I want, but at least I'd
have some chiles I like.
I didn't bother to bring any baking spices, because if there's
any spice at a rental, it'll be cinnamon. In a final
act of folly, I threw in the onion powder, which is ridiculous
because if there is a second spice at a rental, it wil be onion
As it turns out, our temporary home is pretty well provisioned.
At least one of the knives is good and sharp, and there's a
big cutting board and plenty of counter space. There's even a
blender, which was probably too much to hope for.
On the other hand, I forgot the sunscreen.
What's in your portable pantry? What spice can't you live
without? What lengths will you go to to make sure
you eat well away from home?