"Are you going to pick up the basmati rice from Jackson Heights in Queens, or shall I get it from the international shopping center in Jersey City?" my daughter Meera wants to know. "I think we should take at least one large nonstick sauté pan," my youngest daughter, Sakina, suggests. Zia, my oldest daughter, reminds me not to forget the brown mustard seeds for her favorite fish recipe.
Yes, it is that time of year again when my family, all three generations of us, sons-in-law included, shoehorn ourselves into three large station wagons and head, caravan-style, for our annual two-week-long August vacation in a rented beach house on Martha's Vineyard. It is understandable that my grandsons would want their fishing rods, bikes and inflatable boats. And that my husband would take his violin and a son-in-law his computer. But our friends are aghast at our packed-to-the-gills motorized armada, in which a sack of chickpea flour presses against one window and jars of homemade sour cherry syrup against another. You are not going to a desert island, our friends remind us, you're going to Martha's Vineyard--there will be farmers' markets, supermarkets and fish stores.
But that is the whole point. What good are beautiful fresh vegetables if you can't douse them in a cumin-ginger marinade before grilling them, or a glistening fillet of sea bass if you can't cook it on the beach with homemade Caribbean sauce?
Before we leave for our holiday, I prepare batches of the Caribbean sauce, blending together thyme, basil, oregano, chives, cumin and green chiles in vinegar. And because my family thinks that nothing is more cooling than drinks made with my homemade fruit syrups, I spend many pleasurable hours putting away jars of rhubarb syrup in the spring and sour cherry and ginger-lime syrups in the early summer. After a day on the hot sand, all anyone has to do is pour some syrup in a glass, add ice and water (seltzer for me, thank you), stir, settle into a lounge chair on the porch and sip away.
I always travel with my ingredients--and the utensils necessary to bring them to life. If I want an elegant, molded Persian pilaf, layered with green beans and tinted golden with turmeric, then I want to have the correct pan and ingredients to be able to make it with ease. By carrying my kitchen with me, I can enjoy lazy days with my family on Martha's Vineyard without sacrificing any of the comforts of our city home.
Story and recipes by Madhur Jaffrey, the award-winning author of 12 cookbooks. Her most recent work is Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian (Clarkson Potter), to be published in November.