Six summers ago we gave up holidaying in hotels. It all just became too stressful - containing young children in public eating spaces for three meals a day, not having a home made meal or simple breakfast for two weeks straight, wheeling buggies around crowded areas where people were trying to relax. This all just stopped being fun. The City Slickers finally realised the advantages of the country house, and we started renting cottages and barns with room to run, and space to make the most of local produce. Let me be clear. We are not nature lovers, keen sports enthusiasts, or ramblers. We do not dream of country life. We do enjoy a long walk in the woods or on the coast. None of us are really into animals (or bugs), but we all love the space, peace and ability to unwind offered by a simple pad near the sea. But we mostly enjoy checking out the local towns, and their regional treats.
For the first few years we were lucky enough to holiday on the New England coast in a home that belonged to friends of friends. They ventured West for a few weeks every August, and we rented their converted barn. It was fabulous.
It was a 300 year old English barn that had been shipped over in the 1960's and reconstructed in the woods. It also had the best equipped kitchen I have ever seen (including my own - which is saying something). Every appliance one could want, fabulous pots and pans (and plenty of them), sharp knives, dishes to feed the masses (which was useful as virtually every member of my family joined us), and an enviable cook book collection for inspiration.
Unfortunately they moved West permanently, and sold their house. And we had to find a new pad to rent. This coincided with the start of our rather long housing project, so we decided to abandon summers abroad, and start to discover the joys of jumping in the car and driving to the coast. Luckily we found more friends with a house free for a few weeks while they were on holiday. It was on the beach in West Sussex and not quite so rural, but perfectly situated for a great beach holiday. And my quick realisation that our friends Stateside shared our abnormal foodie obsession. The Sussex house had a great oven, and a well equipped kitchen, but clearly cooking and entertaining were not as high on the agenda as surfing, cycling, and general outdoor pursuits.
However, after a few years, they also decided to sell up, and we had to find a new "staycation" destination (yes, a pattern is forming. Are we jinxed?). Luckily, some old friends moved to Suffolk a few years ago, and renovated their barn for rental. Thus we discovered this year's destination. And it was marvelous.
Through these holidays, I have discovered another joy of the "staycation". I can bring all my essentials with me in the car, wedged in between our clothes, tennis rackets, footballs and beach chairs. Making anyone's home MY home away from home.
So, having refined my list, here are the indispensable items I would take to any rented holiday home. There is one caveat. This list is working on the premise that, if you decide to rent a house rather than holiday in a hotel, you are happy to make, on average, one meal a day.
10 Packing Essentials to Throw in the Car when Renting a Holiday Home
1. A sharp knife or chefs knife - chances are the knives in a holiday rental home will be small and probably well used by those there before you. A large, sharp chefs knife will allow you to cut everything from onions to fruit, and meat or fish. Important if you are keen on making the most of the local country produce.
2. A large cutting board - I am not talking massive, but a good size, so that when you go to make a salad you can actually chop more than half a cucumber without them falling of the edge. Smaller boards are easier to store in limited rental spaces, so the likelihood is there will not be a large one in the house, and it hardly takes up a lot of room in the car!
3. A large, heavy bottomed (or caste iron) skillet or high sided frying pan - everyone has their favourite one at home. Take it with you. Please. You can make every meal in it from eggs to pasta sauce, pan fry fish, make crumble, the list goes on. There is nothing more upsetting than scurrying around looking for the best local fisherman or overdoing it at the local pick your own and then not having the right utensil to cook the bounty.
4. 2 loaf tins - while fresh produce may be wonderful, good bread is not always so easy to come by. And when on holiday you have time. So why not make some bread? (I first discovered the joys of bread making while in Sussex). I am sure the locally milled flour from the farm shop down the road is great, so use it! I am not talking sourdough, just a good crusty loaf. Likelihood is there will not be tins to cook them in, so I urge you to take your own.
5. Vitamix (or blender) - this was initially number 1 on my list, but I have had to realise that not everyone is as obsessed as me. Taking my vitamix (or your favourite blender), means you can make smoothies for breakfast (easy, one dish feeds everyone) and given that you will probably be eating more ice cream and chips than usual, a healthy start to the day is good for everyone. And if you are not into smoothies, make a quick cold soup, or fruit granita for dessert. Or most importantly cocktails!
6. Regularly used condiments from the fridge - if you are only going away for a week or two, likelihood is you will not use an entire jar of mustard, ketchup, mayo or jam. And you probably have recently opened ones in the fridge. So take them with you. Along with any other open sauces in your fridge that you can use up. Shame to buy them all again and leave them virtually full at the end of your holiday.
7. BBQ rub and sauce - I love this rub - it takes less than 5 minutes to make. Just chuck it all in a jar and take it with you. Likelihood is you will bbq at least a few times. It is easy and mess free, and if you have this rub (and some bbq sauce if you can be bothered) you can smear it on chicken or meat and your meal is made. No brainer.
8. Granola - I am never without a snack within arms reach at any time, and unfortunately I have passed this gene onto my children. Granola is very versatile and helpful when traveling. It makes a great breakfast with all those fresh berries that you picked at the farm down the road, or by adding some chocolate chips or dried fruit granola is transformed into "trail mix" for snacking while on a day out. I always chuck a large jar or ziplock bag of granola into the car for these holidays - either my weekly batch (recipe following soon), or a bag from my favourite deli.
9. Yeast - flour is heavy, messy and easy to come by. But take some yeast with you. Make bread. Or pita (I promise, once you have made your own you will never go back). Although, I have to say that this year, I had done some research, and left my yeast behind, as I knew I was only 5 minutes away from the amazing Pump Street Bakery,where I hate to admit I visited on average twice a day (and sometimes more). They make some of the most delicious sourdough I have ever tasted, so I knew there was no need to make my own!
10. Coffee and a coffee pot - if you are a coffee lover, I urge you to take your own and your favourite little coffee pot (mine is an old Bialetti). No one wants to wake up on their first day of holiday without a coffee. Not a good start to the break. And there is no guarantee, if holidaying away from your favourite barrista, that you will find a local coffee that stands up to one at home. So make your own.
So, this is my long, rambling list. I would really love to hear what you take away with you when you head off on a "self catering" holiday. I am sure that you have some essentials in your car that I will need to take next year!