Have Spice Kit, Will Travel

A portion of the spice kit, ready to go. Credit: Theresa Carle-Sanders

What extras do you take along on vacation? For some, it`s a shelf full of books. For others, it’s more pairs of shoes than there are days in their holiday. For me, it’s my spice kit.

I love to cook – even when we’re away from home. Camping, boating, backpacking or all-inclusive resorts, I usually end up making my way into a kitchen somewhere along the way. From a post-hike Spaghetti Carbonara served with fire-toasted garlic bread, to a dinner made in a youth hostel kitchen with new friends and ingredients from the local market, to the tray of fresh-baked scones we enjoyed with coffee on deck while cruising down the Caledonian Canal in Scotland this April, I always enjoy the fruits of my own labour in the kitchen, whether we’ve been roughing it in the woods or indulging in rich restaurant food for days at a stretch.

Our most recent trip navigating the lochs of the Scottish Highlands began in Inverness at Caley Cruisers. We spent the next week basking under unseasonably warm, sunny skies and cruising from Inverness to Fort William, including Loch Ness, and back again.

Deciding on what spices to take depends on where we’re going and what I plan to make. Because I had access to a fully equipped galley on this trip, I had along a wider selection than the basics I usually take. Here’s what I took along in my box of 15 watchmaker’s containers:

Table Salt, Ground Black Pepper, Unrefined Coarse Sea Salt, Kombu, “Dilly Dip” (an all-natural herb blend), Nutritional Yeast, Preserved Lemon, Whole spices – peppercorns, fennel seeds, cloves, star anise, dried chillies and bay leaves, Cinnamon, Smoked Paprika, Cumin/Coriander, Garlic Powder, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Baking Powder, Dried Thyme, Ajwain and Instant Yeast.

Some are basics that everyone has in their pantry. Salt & pepper for the kitchen and table, cinnamon for late-night toast snacks, garlic powder for just about everything else, and the baking powder and yeast for any impromptu baking projects that took my fancy. Others on my list are less well known.Kombu is dried kelp that added much-needed body and umami to a vegetable stock. The stock, given an aromatic boost with a bouquet garnii of whole spices and thyme, formed the base for an all-Scottish Barley Risotto one night and a North African-inspired red lentil soup spiced with chillies, smoked paprika, cumin and coriander that we enjoyed for lunch.

The “dilly dip” went into scrambled eggs for breakfast and was mixed into sour cream and mayonnaise for an afternoon snack with potato chips. The sun-dried tomatoes topped our yeast-leavened flat-bread pizzas and the baking powder resulted in the rhubarb scones we had for breakfast our last morning on board. The preserved lemon went everywhere, including the risotto, the scrambled eggs and the scones.

Of course, no planning is ever perfect. Some of my stash went unused – next time, the nutritional yeast and ajwain will stay behind, and in their place I`ll take mustard powder and turmeric.

If you’re travelling abroad, investigate the import restrictions of your destination country before you leave. Some countries, such as Australia, require travellers to declare all food products, including herbs and spices, upon entry.

On the way home, remember that spices make great souvenirs! I wouldn’t return from Spain without saffron, and I`d bring an extra case with me to cart back the spice markets of India. There’s something thrilling about shopping at the source, and there’s nothing like the wafting aroma of an open jar to take you from a dull, errand-filled day at home, back to an exotic holiday spent footloose and fancy free.

Safe journeys.

– Theresa Carle-Sanders

If you’d like to read more about Theresa’s trip cruising the Caledonian Canal, visit her blog, Island Vittles, here.


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