Cooking on Vacation

 

My grandparents built this house in 1974. It’s a nice house, a modest house. To me, it’s always been Grandma’s house. I was young when my grandparents separated, and to be honest, I didn’t even realize that grandparents should live together or that grandmas and grandpas should be like moms and dads — or what marriage meant.

But to me, this house is Grandma’s house. Over the years, some things have been upgraded. Others are the same as when the house was built. Grandma has taken care of the house. It’s never felt old to me — much as she’s never seemed old to me.

 

A Familiar, Yet Foreign, Kitchen

This summer, I’ve been lucky enough to spend a week at my Grandma’s house with my husband and son. Grandma’s kitchen is a special place. It’s where we made dinners when I enjoyed solo summer trips here as a kid. It’s where I’d eat cereal out of the same bowl my son ate his ice cream out of last night. It’s a kitchen that has undergone a few upgrades to the flooring, lighting and stovetop. But the original double oven is in the wall, and while you can’t be sure the temperature is precise, you also can be sure that nothing you’ll buy today will work as well as this nearly a half-century-old relic does.

For as familiar as Grandma’s kitchen is to me, though, cooking in it is completely foreign. When we visit, my grandma becomes something of a helper (even though she’s more than capable of cooking everything herself), and I become lead chef — though I have to ask where everything is … and sometimes I might use a pot or pan I shouldn’t.

There was a time when Grandma would have insisted on taking us out to eat more. But as our family has shifted to more health-conscious foods, mindful of our intake of sugar and sodium and different types of fat and grains — never mind my son’s various allergies — well, eating in is just easier. And when there are two of you working on the meal and a family to help clear and clean — and no one has school or work to rush off to prepare for — there’s something relaxing about it. What I mean is it still feels like vacation, even if I’m cooking a couple meals a day.

 My boy cooking at his great-grandma's house.

My boy cooking at his great-grandma's house.

Grandma knows what we eat, so she had plenty of chicken and steak, as well as rice and green beans for my kiddo, and ample veggies for the rest of the family. To help make things a little easier, I shipped (hooray for Amazon!) some of my son’s favorite allergy-friendly pancake mix and cereal bars, so she wouldn’t have to hunt for these specialty items.

In the mornings, my son has been eager to mix the pancake batter just like he does at home on the weekends, and he’s asked to help make the salads too. Grandma even let us take her new ice cream maker out on its maiden voyage this week — my boy and I made nondairy chocolate ice cream that was more delicious than Grandma expected.

 Picking tomatoes at Grandma Mary's.

Picking tomatoes at Grandma Mary's.

 

Why We Cook on Vacation

A lot of our vacations with our son have been to visit family. Sometimes we add on adventures and stay in hotels. We’ve also rented a condo. You’d think that vacation time would be about not cooking, but somehow, when you’re on vacation, it feels different. It’s less rushed. It’s more enjoyable to sit and eat what you’ve prepared. It’s about gathering with family. It’s time together preparing the meal and time together savoring it. It feeds the body and the soul.

And maybe this is silly, but there’s also something about teaching my son that regardless of whether you’re on vacation, food is meant to be nourishing. It’s meant to make you feel good and give you energy. And a vacation from the daily stresses of life doesn’t necessarily mean a vacation from cooking food. After all, we don’t take a break from eating, so why should we take a total break from cooking?

Besides, cooking shouldn’t be stressful. It can (and should) be simple and even relaxing. It’s a basic daily activity, much like showering. Sure, sometimes, we might try to get fancy. But day-to-day food can taste good without requiring much of us, and that can be accomplished on vacation, whether we’re renting a small condo or — the best option ever — staying at Grandma’s house.