Have knives and cast iron, will travel

Over the past few years, we’ve stayed at a number of places with full kitchens while traveling, from time share units to VRBO places.  We’ve come to realize that not all “full” kitchens are created equal, and even those that are technically fully equipped may be sorely lacking in the quality department.

A good knife is one of the most important pieces of kitchen equipment you can have if you actually want to cook from scratch.  We’ve started bringing our paring knife and our chef’s knife with us on almost every trip.  A couple of knives take up minimal space, whether you’re traveling by car or by plane (of course they have to be in checked luggage!) — knife guard highly recommend to protect you and the rest of your stuff.


The kitchens at the resort in Destin feature non-stick skillets.  Though I do try to minimize use of non-stick skillets to avoid ingesting the chemicals in the coating, I’m not completely opposed to them (I have yet to figure out how to successfully make scrambled eggs in a cast iron skillet) IF the coating is in good shape.  Unfortunately, this is rarely the case for pans I’ve encountered in vacation rentals, so this year, our cast iron came along for the ride.


While the pan is a bit heavy, it doesn’t take up all that much room.  When packing, I stuck the pan in a paper bag to prevent oils from rubbing off on anything else, then put other kitchen stuff inside the pan.  Next time, I’d also bring our baby cast iron (6″ diameter), which is perfect for making one or two fried eggs.

On the implements and tools side, I also added a small fine mesh strainer, after learning that hard way that it’s pretty much impossible to rinse quinoa without said implement.

Dry goods and pantry items — I tried not to go too crazy here, there are grocery stores in Destin after all.  I focused on items that are hard to find and/or items that I can get a much better price buying from bulk food bins (I may be able to skip this step in future trips, as Destin is about to get a Whole Foods — then it will have ALL THE STORES (well, not TJ’s, but almost all the stores)).

  • natural, organic peanut butter
  • almonds and peanuts
  • organic raisins and cranberries (for oatmeal and snacking)
  • quinoa
  • brown rice
  • steel cut and rolled oats
  • [locally grown] black beans
  • lentils
  • organic canola oil
  • granulated onion and garlic
  • an herb blend

Plus some garden goods . . .

  • garlic scapes (enough that we didn’t need to buy garlic all week)
  • radishes
  • a bit of lettuce and spinach
  • a few turnips
  • a bit of broccoli and asparagus

On the trip from Atlanta to Destin, we stopped at a fruit stand and picked up some farm fresh eggs, peaches, and tomatoes.  And boiled peanuts!

After a couple of days on the road (during which time we actually ate a decent bit of food we’d packed/prepared ahead of time), I was ready to get back in the kitchen (said no one else at the resort).  I walked to the nearest grocery store (a Winn Dixie — do any of my southern readers have an opinion on which is better, Winn Dixie or Publix?), list and bags in hand, and stocked up for the week.

  • 2-lb bag of carrots
  • 1 bunch of broccoli
  • 1 head of red cabbage
  • 3 onions
  • 1 bunch of bananas (a vacation treat and prebiotics!)
  • 1 loaf of 100% whole grain bread
  • 1/2 gallon of organic milk
  • butter
  • cheese
  • mayo
  • mustard
  • all-fruit strawberry and apricot jams
  • 2 boxes of whole wheat pasta
  • 1 bag of breakfast cereal
  • 1 bag of chickpeas
  • 1 bag of black-eyed peas
  • 1 bottle of salad dressing
  • 1 bottle of barbeque sauce
  • 1 jar of dill pickles
  • 1 jar of pasta sauce
  • 1 bag each of frozen corn, peas, and green beans
  • 2 pints of Ben and Jerry’s 🙂

I’m sure I forgot something, but it was a relatively short list, which was good when it was time to me to play pack mule and walk back to our place.

I did a lot of cooking at the beginning of the week, which allowed us to coast later on, enjoying the leftovers and a couple of restaurant meals.


Some of my vacation meal creations:

  • BBQ black beans and sauteed veg over rice
  • Pasta with broccoli, carrots, and red sauce
  • Quinoa pilaf with corn and garlic scapes, with black-eyed peas on the side
  • Fritatta with scapes, potato, spinach and mushrooms
  • Pasta salad with peas, scapes, and red cabbage

It seems like there should be more, but that might be about it.  I’m pretty sure I beat out everyone else at the resort for “most time spent cooking,” but that was fine with me — I needed the breaks from the sun.  We had more leftovers than expected, because my MIL supplemented her meals with seafood from some local places she likes.

Our first meal out was at Thai Delights.  G requested a dish with noodles, broccoli, tofu, mushrooms, carrots, and tomato sauce.  He got everything but the tomato sauce — we ordered the “Drunken Noodles” and added mushrooms.  Matthew ordered the Pad See-Iw, and we shared the two dishes.  We enjoyed our meal so much that we returned three nights later for a reprise.  Same two entrees as the first time, plus we added a masaman curry.

On Friday night, we ordered a carry-out pizza from Mellow Mushroom to round out the odds and ends we needed to finish from the fridge.

For the drive home, we kept it simple with sandwiches for lunch.  For dinner, we ate the pasta salad I made in Destin.  We had a hard time finding a rest stop, so we ended up pulling over at one of those “Truck Rest Areas,” basically a place for truckers to stop along the interstate, with bare bones facilities.  It was not the most picturesque setting, but at least there was a picnic table.  To sweeten the deal, we found $50 cash — true story!

So, what are your must-haves if you’ll have access to a kitchen while traveling — those kitchen implements or special ingredients that you won’t leave home without?



  1. EcoCatLady says:

    Gosh… I haven’t been on that sort of a trip in a LOOOONG time, so I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Cooking would probably be essentially with my food allergies though…

    I’m impressed at your restraint with the sun – I spent a few too many hours out in the garden wearing a tank top and evidently my shoulders aren’t quite flexible enough to reach certain exposed parts of my back with the sunscreen. Oops! It seems I have to do it at least once at the beginning of every summer just to remind myself not to do it again!

    Anyhow, we should trade notes. I have no problems making scrambled eggs in the cast iron pan, but can’t for the life of me figure out how to make a fritatta without it sticking! The secret with scrambled eggs is to use enough oil (at least a full tablespoon), and let it get hot enough to start forming a film before you put the eggs in – then you turn down the heat to around 4 or 5 and you need a nice thin flexible metal spatula (I think that’s the secret), and you have to keep turning/scraping until the eggs are no longer liquid, then you can ease up a bit on the stirring/scraping and let them cook to however done you like them.

    This is the spatula that I use – I have three of them!

    There are others, but it has to be thin and flexible for it to work.

    So what’s the trick with the fritatta?

    1. Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      Hmm, I’ll have to try that with the scrambled eggs. One tablespoon of oil isn’t too crazy — I was thinking I’d have to use way more.

      There are different methods for fritattas, but I saute whatever veggies I want in a decent bit of oil and/or butter in the cast iron I want to use, then pour the egg mixture over the sauteed veggies. Cook on the stove top over medium-low heat until the eggs start to set a bit on the edges (maybe 5-10 minutes depending on size of pan and power of burner). Preheat the broiler, and transfer there for ~5-7 minutes, or until the top has set (check frequently to avoid burning). I get a bit of sticking at the bottom edge, but usually nothing bad, certainly not the mess I make with scrambled eggs!

      1. EcoCatLady says:

        BTW – I meant to mention on your last post about the prescription sunglasses – if you’re not opposed to glasses made in China, the best price is at Zenni Optical online. As long as you know what size to order, you can get them really darned cheap!

  2. guinnessmike says:

    From my old car camping days and vacations via the family truckster – my Mom had a electric skillet. We always camped with power outlets so it would work in camp and if we ended up in a motel you could cook even if you didn’t have a stove or a pan. Many meals came out of the electric skillet and now they are non stick and you can set the temp low enough to avoid vaporizing the coating. Mom also assembled a spices collection for camping that fit into an old tea tin it went everywhere we went.

    1. Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      Matthew has a double electric burner from his days working out west — never really thought of using it in a hotel room for our travels, though that is how he used it. My roommates and I did make good use of a forbidden electric skillet in the dorm (or maybe not “good” use — we mostly used it to reheat Papa John’s breadsticks 😉 ). A pre-assembled spice tin is a great idea!

  3. gayle says:

    You’re an inspiration in planning ahead and cooking!
    I always travel with a baked sweet potato and a hard boiled egg for snacking.
    Simple, nutritious and very portable.

    1. Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      Thanks, Gayle! I almost made some hard boiled eggs for our outgoing journey, but I ran out of time. I’ll have to try the baked sweet potato idea sometime.

  4. Tracy says:

    I purged all nonstick pans after hearing that just heating one up kills pet birds. I don’t have birds but I do have beings, lol. I use La Cruset for eggs ( the outlet shop has great deals). We travel with popcorn ( not micro kind) and have made it on any stove, fire, or Coleman. We always travel with mustard, vinegar, and oil (extra virgin) so I can make salad dressing and sauces. We love tempeh and lentils for their versatility when we travel. I also freeze containers of strong herbal tea to be the ice in my cooler and once thawed we dilute with water or seltzer and add agave nectar and a squeeze of citrus sometimes. It is a refresher when traveling. I pack homemade bread and granola bars too. We often camp so aluminum foil is handy. I’m sure there’s more.

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