There’s something different about vacationing in a rental home instead of a hotel. You know you are a tourist, but when you return to your house at the end of the day, wave “hello” to the neighbors taking out the trash, and grab a drink from the refrigerator that you bought at the corner store, you somehow feel like more of a temporary resident than an interloper.
Until recently, I had no idea how easy it was to find rental vacation homes. I thought that you had to be part of one of those clubs that gives you a free condo stay and then sucks you into an expensive lifetime membership. It turns out that you can find properties all over the world by using HomeAway (the link there is to the British site, there is also a U.S. site that you can use). These properties vary in size and price, but I’ve found that they are comparably priced to (if not cheaper than) a hotel stay. Full disclosure: HomeAway subsidized my vacation rental in exchange for a review. Thanks to everyone at HomeAway for introducing me (and subsequently all of you) to a fun way to travel!
While vacations are typically about eating out, one of my favorite parts of my recent vacation to Charleston, South Carolina was developing a Charleston-themed cupcake in the kitchen of the HomeAway property shown above. This challenge forced me to study dessert menus all around town, seeking out Charleston’s specialties. Gathering ideas and supplies provided a handy excuse to interact with locals in different ways than I otherwise would have and to get a “taste” of the city that I might have otherwise missed.
Tips for Baking in Someone Else’s Kitchen
Baking in someone else’s kitchen can be a challenge. While the HomeAway houses and condos are typically stocked with basic supplies, they of course do not have everything that you may have in your own home. Here are some tips that might help to make your travel baking experience go more smoothly:
- Be flexible. When you arrive, take inventory of the kitchen supplies. Most of the time, a little flexibility is all it takes to make do with the tools at hand. I’m spoiled to have an incredible Breville stand mixer, but I ended up loving the condo’s hand mixer. My son had never seen a hand mixer before and, as evidenced in the photo above, he had a fabulous time helping me mix with it.
- Treat supplies that you have to buy as souvenirs. Coming home with a new mixing bowl is more fun than returning with a lame T-shirt. The condo had measuring cups, but not measuring spoons. While in Charleston, I purchased a new set of measuring spoons from Charleston Cooks that I adore.
- If you plan to make cupcakes, bring along some silicone liners. Even if your vacation home doesn’t have a cupcake tin, you’ll still be able to bake cupcakes with just a cookie sheet and some silicone liners. My Charleston home had a jumbo cupcake tin (I was really surprised!). I’d never made jumbo cupcakes before and took this as an opportunity to do so. Besides, a vacation is a great excuse to eat larger-sized desserts!
- Remember that the vacation rental’s oven might be calibrated differently than yours. Be sure to check on your baked goods regularly. Even if you make a tried and true recipe, it might bake for more or less time in a different oven.
- Make sure that you plan ahead for Internet access. Not all of the vacation rentals are equipped with Internet access. Mine was not. If this is important to you, be sure to ask in advance. Luckily, I recently got an Android phone so I was able to look up recipes from there. You can see me hovering over the recipe on my phone in the photo above. I’m old school and typically print my recipes out, so I had to resist the urge to scribble notes all over my phone as I would typically do with my recipe printouts.
- Check out HomeAway’s Travel Cookbook. If you are headed to another country, check out HomeAway’s travel cookbook to get some ideas of dishes that you might want to make on your “self- catered” vacation.
What Did I Bake?
By now, you are probably wondering what I decided to bake. Sorry, I’m not going to tell you – yet. I’ll fill you in later this week. But, I will show you some of ingredients that I purchased and give you a few hints.
I wanted to use as many local ingredients as possible in my Charleston cupcakes, so I headed to the Charleston farmers’ market which was walking distance from our rental home. While St. Louis has some outstanding farmers’ markets, Charleston’s Marion Square Farmers’ Market definitely wins on the prepared food front. If I lived there, I would head to the market every Saturday not only to get fruits and veggies, but also to eat lunch!
Jonathan ate this outstanding bánh mì sandwich from Street Hero and I had a refreshing, chilled gazpacho soup. We shared an ice cream sampler from Roots Ice Cream (we loved the sweet tea ice cream), and guzzled down some innovative and thirst-quenching Apple Ginger Whey Soda from Giddy Goat Cheese (they use the whey from the cheese-making process to make a homebrewed soda – genius!).
But, I digress. I was at the market to purchase supplies for my cupcakes, and that I did.
I knew that I would need eggs and found some from Green Grocer – Sea Island Eggs. I took their flyer and perused it trying to find a website to link to. The contact portion of the flyer includes an address on Wadmalaw Island, SC and a phone number, (843)559-5095. However, there is no mention of a website and it reads, “Email: none”. Why should Green Grocer need an email to sell eggs? Good for them!
As I was wandering through the market, Charleston Spice Company caught my eye. I hadn’t expected to find spices at the market. I thought about buying some of their vanilla extract, but I realized that my recipe didn’t call for any. I talked to one of the owners about my cupcake idea and he suggested their lavender flower sugar.
I’d baked with lavender before and found the results to be a bit too soap-like. The owners of Charleston Spice Company assured me that their lavender flower sugar had just a hint of lavender flavor and it would give a crisp floral note to my recipe that would complement the cupcakes’ heavy acid content (hint). They were right – tasters didn’t even know that the recipe contained lavender, but the lavender sugar made the cupcakes taste more fragrant and complex.
I didn’t plan on staying in Charleston long enough to grow a garden, but I did want to use the leaves of this lemon basil plant in my cupcake. I purchased the plant, used some of the leaves (if you’ve never tried lemon basil, it’s literally a basil leaf that tastes lemony) and left the plant on a neighbor’s doorstep when we left town. I had to hope that they would plant it and show it loving care.
I wanted some kind of berry for my cupcakes and had decided to wait until I got to the market to see what looked best. Without a doubt, I had to get the blackberries. The market was filled with HUGE irresistible blackberries. I bought mine from Maple Ridge Farm (again, no website, but they do have an email: email@example.com).
Look for one more post about Charleston sweets, and another post revealing the Charleston cupcake later this week. Also, keep your eye out for the round up of all 60 entries in the Ice Cream Cupcake Contest!