I’M NOT SURE WHEN I BECAME OBSESSED WITH TRAVEL, the kind where you really get out and explore a city. But somehow I’m the guy who has a list for wherever you’re going. Istanbul? I got you. Paris? Duh. Mexico City? It’s 16 pages long. But whenever I travel like this, I find myself eating out all the time—and I end up missing the kitchen. I stroll through the local markets, looking at the produce and knowing full well that I can taste but I can’t play around. So I go about my vacations a little differently these days.
Yes, I still dive into a deep state of research with a dizzying amount of tabs on my computer screen displaying flight options, road maps, and Airbnbs. But the latter is where I fully geek out. I scour the internet for the perfect place, with nearby farmers markets bursting with peak produce and a dream kitchen where I can cook endlessly.
Last September, in the sunny oasis that is Ojai, California, I did just that. I found a stunning house on Enchanted Vacation Rentals, grabbed a few friends to tag along (including my colleague/work wife Christina Chaey), loaded up on gemlike fruits and vegetables from the market, and cooked up a storm. Of course, I still had to check out a few places while I was there (an incredible local bread shop, chic clothing stores), but I squeezed that in between dipping in the pool, hiking by the river, and making the kind of food I want to eat all summer long. As the designated cook, I do have one rule of the house: I call the master bedroom.
DAY 1 Pool Time and Snacks
Saturday, 3:25 p.m.
Not long after we got into the house, I put my friends to work unpacking groceries and cleaning radishes. I never said vacationing was easy!
Saturday, 3:58 p.m.
Some people ignored my instructions and headed straight for the pool. To be perfectly honest, I can’t blame them.
DAY 2 Exploring Ojai
Sunday, 1:14 p.m.
Baker Kate Pepper’s bread shop, Kate’s Bread, is the most calming place. I loved hanging out, eating sourdough with plenty of salt and butter.
Sunday, 10:27 a.m.
While everyone else was in shopping mode at In the Field, I just wanted to sit down and try on hats. (I didn’t end up getting any.)
Sunday, 2:09 p.m.
After all the hiking and snacking, we headed to Farmer and the Cook for refried beans, chiles rellenos, and a place to sit in the shade.(ILLUSTRATIONS BY HENRI CAMPEÃ)
Sunday, 11:43 a.m.
My friends led the way during our hike along Matilija Creek Trail. I followed and took it all in.
WHERE THE LOCALS GO
MATILIJA CREEK TRAIL
There’s no shortage of hiking options around these parts, but this back trail just outside of Ojai is particularly beautiful. It stretches about nine moderate miles and has plenty of creeks and a picturesque waterfall.
FARMER AND THE COOK
Grab organic fruit smoothies, Swiss chard enchiladas, and sunny outdoor table space at this local favorite café–slash–grocery store with some prime people-and dog-watching opportunities.
Carb lovers flock to Kate Pepper’s weekend-only operation, where she bakes burnished loaves and pastries out of a converted woodshop. Pro tip: Order ahead of time on her website, katesbread.com.
OJAI FARMERS MARKET
Everything at this Sunday market is pristine to the point of being obnoxious, but the real treats to hoard are the fruits: gorgeous Harry’s Berries strawberries and tart-sweet passion fruit.
DAY 3 The Big Meal
Monday, 4:05 p.m.
The flatbread needed the dramatic sprinkle of flour. Trust me on this one.
“As the designated cook, I do have one rule of the house: I call the master bedroom.”
Monday, 5:22 p.m.
Golden hour makes everything look beautiful, especially these already gorgeous agave plants.
WHAT TO BRING
You love your knives at home. You will not love the dull knives in the rental. I bring three: a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a bread knife. Pack them in a knife roll or, in a pinch, wrap them individually in towels.
Everyone has their own ingredient workhorses. Mine are a little—okay, very—extra. I take Jacobsen salt, a dried chile like Aleppo-style or gochugaru, and a nice vinegar (sherry or unseasoned rice).
I’m not about paper towels at home, so why would I be when I’m on vacation? Grab a bunch of the cheap (just 80 cents!) dish towels from Ikea for super-easy cleanup with a lot less waste.
Yes, it’s heavy, but this is the most versatile piece of cooking equipment during any vacation. You can go from frying flatbread on the stovetop (p.66) to roasting stone fruit in the oven for a summer dessert.
Monday, 5:58 p.m.
Call me sappy, but I wanted to assemble a flatbread stuffed with avocado and spicy salsa for my work wife.
Monday, 9:03 p.m.
Once the sun set, we gathered around the bonfire and got in the last few vacation photos we’d later post on Instagram. Sorry, not sorry.
Monday, 7:17 p.m.
I have a little trick for serving ice cream: Put it on some ice. That way I can hang out with my friends instead of running back to the freezer all night.
SALTED PISTACHIO CRUMBLES WITH BERRIES AND ICE CREAM P. 67
Radishes With Crème Fraîche and Furikake
Furikake, the Japanese seasoning and condiment, comes in many store-bought styles. This streamlined homemade version has just five ingredients and is equally versatile on fish, steamed rice, or roasted vegetables.
1 toasted nori sheet, coarsely torn
1 Tbsp. mild red pepper flakes (such as Aleppo-style, Maras, or gochugaru)
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
1 tsp. flaky sea salt, plus more
1½ lb. mixed radishes (such as red, watermelon, and/or black), trimmed
¾ cup (or more) crème fraîche
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: A spice mill Finely grind nori in spice mill; transfer to a small bowl and mix in red pepper flakes, sesame seeds, and 1 tsp. sea salt. Using a Microplane, finely grate zest of lemon half into bowl and use your fingers to work it into nori mixture (this will keep the zest from clumping). Set lemon half aside.
Cut radishes into a mix of ¼"-thick rounds and 1"-thick wedges, depending on their size (you just want pieces that are easy to pick up and eat).
To serve, spoon crème fraîche onto one side of a platter or large plate and sprinkle furikake over. Pile up radishes on the other side of the platter. Squeeze juice from reserved lemon half over radishes and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt.
Charred Peppers With Lemon Ricotta and Cucumbers
The smoky charred peppers play well with the cool cucumbers and lemony ricotta. If you can’t find Italian frying peppers or just aren’t feeling them, grilled eggplant or zucchini would also pair well here.
½ cup walnuts
6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
4 sweet Italian frying peppers or Anaheim chiles
1½ cups whole-milk ricotta
1 lemon Kosher salt
6 medium Persian cucumbers (about 1 lb.), sliced on a deep diagonal
1 cup mint leaves, torn if large Freshly ground black pepper
Place a rack in upper third of oven; preheat to 350°. Spread out walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast, tossing halfway through, until golden brown, 8–10 minutes. Let cool, then crush into large pieces with a flat-bottomed measuring cup or glass.
Meanwhile, heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high. Cook peppers, shaking pan and turning peppers occasionally, until skins are lightly charred and flesh is tender, 6–8 minutes. Transfer peppers to a cutting board and let cool slightly. If peppers are large, cut in half lengthwise.
Combine ricotta and 2 Tbsp. oil in a small bowl; finely grate zest from lemon over and mix well. Season lemon ricotta with salt. Set lemon aside.
Combine peppers, cucumbers, mint, and half of walnuts in a large bowl. Cut reserved lemon in half and squeeze juice into bowl. Drizzle in 2 Tbsp. oil, season with salt, and toss to coat.
Transfer pepper mixture to a platter along with any juices in the bottom of bowl. Dollop lemon ricotta over and top with remaining walnuts. Drizzle with more oil and season with black pepper.
Flatbread With Avocado and Scallion Salsa
Pillowy flatbread is an optimal canvas for buttery avocados and a spicy salsa, but it can also be a vehicle for all kinds of dips and spreads. Just don’t call it avocado toast!
1½ tsp. sugar
1 ¼-oz. envelope active dry yeast (about 2¼ tsp.)
2½ cups (313 g) all-purpose flour
½ cup whole-milk plain Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. kosher salt
SALSA AND ASSEMBLY
2 tsp. coriander seeds
2 tsp. cumin seeds
4 Tbsp. plus 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for brushing Kosher salt
1 red or green chile (such as serrano or jalapeño), finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped parsley
1 lemon All-purpose flour (for dusting)
4 medium avocados, pits removed Flaky sea salt (optional)
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: A spice mill
Stir sugar into ¾ cup warm water in a large bowl. Sprinkle in yeast and let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.
Add flour, yogurt, oil, and kosher salt to sugar mixture and mix until a shaggy dough forms (don’t worry about any dry or unincorporated bits). Cover bowl with a damp kitchen towel and let sit in a warm, dry spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
SALSA AND ASSEMBLY
While the dough is rising, toast coriander seeds and cumin seeds in a dry medium skillet over medium heat, shaking often, until fragrant and slightly darkened in color, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a spice mill. Let cool, then coarsely grind. Set spice mixture aside.
Place scallions and 1 Tbsp. oil in skillet, season with kosher salt, and cook, turning occasionally, until softened and deeply charred, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board; trim roots and discard. Finely chop scallions and place in a medium bowl. Add reserved spice mixture, chile, and parsley. Finely grate half of lemon zest into bowl, then cut lemon in half and squeeze in juice. Add 1 cup oil and stir well to combine. Season with kosher salt and let sit while you make the flatbreads.
Turn out dough onto a lightly dusted surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Form into balls and, working with 1 ball at a time, roll out into 6" rounds about ¼" thick.
Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Working 1 at a time and adding remaining 2 Tbsp. oil as needed, cook flatbread until bubbles appear over the surface, about 1 minute. Flip and cook until cooked through, about 1 minute. Continue to cook, turning often, until browned in spots on both sides, about 1 minute longer. Transfer to a plate and wrap up in a clean kitchen towel to keep warm.
To serve, brush each flatbread with oil. Coarsely smash avocados onto flatbread and spoon salsa over. Sprinkle with sea salt if desired.
Crispy Turmeric-and-Pepper-Spiced Chicken Wings
Starting the wings in a cold oven allows the fat to render slowly so they get even crispier. Pour off the infused fat and save for stir-fries or cooking crispy eggs.
2 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. sugar
3 ½ tsp. kosher salt
4 lb. chicken wings, patted dry
1 3" piece ginger, peeled, finely grated
4 garlic cloves, finely grated
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil Lemon wedges (for serving)
SPECIAL EQUIPMENT: A spice mill
Finely grind peppercorns, turmeric, sugar, and salt in spice mill, then transfer spice mix to a small bowl. Arrange chicken wings on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle wings all over with spice mix. Reserve bowl.
Mix ginger, garlic, and oil in reserved bowl, then drizzle over wings. Using tongs or your hands, turn wings to coat and let sit at room temperature at least 30 minutes, or cover and chill up to 1 day.
Place baking sheet with chicken wings in a cold oven; preheat oven to 425°. Bake wings until golden brown and foil is stained with turmeric, 30–35 minutes. Using tongs, turn wings over and continue to cook until skin is crisp and wings are starting to char around the edges, another 30–40 minutes.
Transfer wings to a platter and serve with lemon wedges alongside for squeezing over.
Grilled Pork Shoulder Steaks With Herb Salad
Don’t go for perfect grill marks here. Flip the steaks often so the fat renders evenly without overcooking the meat.
4 medium shallots, 2 chopped, 2 thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves
⅓ cup plus 3 Tbsp. fish sauce
⅓ cup plus 3 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
3 Tbsp. light brown sugar, divided
8 3/4"-thick pork shoulder steaks (3.–4 lb. total) Kosher salt
2 red or green Thai chiles, thinly sliced
3 cups Thai or sweet basil leaves, cilantro leaves with tender stems, and/or dill
Blend chopped shallots, garlic, ⅓ cup fish sauce, ⅓ cup lime juice, and 2 Tbsp. brown sugar in a blender until smooth.
Season steaks lightly with salt (the fish sauce will also season the steaks). Transfer to a large bowl or a 12x9" baking dish. Pour marinade over and turn steaks with tongs to coat evenly. Let sit at room temperature 1 hour, or cover and chill up to 12 hours, turning once (halfway through if you can).
Preheat a grill to high heat. Grill steaks, turning every minute or 2, until lightly charred and crisp and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 140°, 7–9 minutes. Transfer steaks to a cutting board and let rest at least 5 minutes before thinly slicing.
Meanwhile, mix chiles, remaining 3 Tbsp. fish sauce, remaining 3 Tbsp. lime juice, remaining 1 Tbsp. brown sugar, and 1 Tbsp. water in a large bowl to combine. Add sliced shallots and herbs and toss to coat; season lightly with salt.
Arrange sliced meat on a platter and scatter herb salad over.
Salted Pistachio Crumbles With Berries and Ice Cream
A salty, crumbly pistachio topping; juicy macerated fruit; and yes, store-bought ice cream combine for a back-pocket dessert that might feel a bit like cheating but is so good nobody will care.
. cup (60 g) raw pistachios
1 cup (125 g) all-purpose flour
½ cup (100 g) sugar
¼ cup (38 g) cornmeal
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1½ lb. strawberries (about 1 quart), hulled, halved, quartered if large
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. ground cardamom
3 Tbsp. honey
2 pints ice cream of your choice
Place a rack in upper third of oven; preheat to 350°. Spread out pistachios on a rimmed baking sheet and toast, tossing halfway through, until slightly golden brown, 6–8 minutes. Let cool; pulse in a food processor until mostly finely ground but with some larger pieces remaining.
Mix pistachios, flour, sugar, cornmeal, and 1 tsp. salt in a large bowl, then drizzle in butter and work in with your fingers or the handle of a wooden spoon until small pebble- to pea-size clumps form. Scatter crumble over a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet, trying not to break it up too much, and bake, tossing halfway through, until golden brown, 20–25 minutes. Let cool.
Meanwhile, toss strawberries, lemon juice, cardamom, and a pinch of salt in a medium bowl to combine.
Heat honey in a small skillet, stirring, until it begins to bubble and darkens slightly, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and scrape into strawberries. Toss, until honey is evenly distributed (it’ll be sticky in the beginning but will eventually dissolve). Let sit, tossing occasionally, until berries release their juices, about 15 minutes.
Scoop ice cream into bowls. Spoon strawberries and their juices over; scatter crumble on top. ■