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Back on the Coast

Back on the Coast

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Home Cookin' with the Van

I like food. Food is good. I reward and nourish myself with good food because I work and play hard. Being a vandweller, you need good food because you live a robust lifestyle. I'm not a master chef, just a bachelor (again!), that knows how to prepare basic comfort foods. As usual, I try to streamline and simplify the process of procuring, storing and processing food when vandwelling.

To understand the way I deal with food, you need to understand a little about my lifestyle and network. Sometimes I live in the city, sometimes in the country; I pick up groceries after work several times a week. I usually only store about 2+ days of fresh food; things like coffee, sugar, cooking oils, granola, I'll usually have a few weeks worth on board. Workdays, I eat something light for breakie, something light for lunch, and a fair dinner at night. Weekends, I eat a brunch type meal and a full dinner.

During the weekdays, I'll usually have dinner at a friend's place 1 or 2 nights, maybe a casual dinner at a reasonable diner. On the weekend, I'll probably have dinner and/or brunch at my folks' or friends. That leaves me with about 5 breakies, 5 lunches (if working full-time) and about 3-4 dinners for the average week, that I prepare, store and devour around the van. That schedule is key to understanding my lightweight setup.

I don't cook inside the van. Why? I lived in a very small apartment (bachelor size) once, around 300 square feet. Although it had a very good ventilation hood, the cooking smell and grease (if I fried or grilled and definitely, no cajun!!!) would permeate the place. I had to be careful to balance the style/amount of cooking in the apartment, so it would remain clean and fresh. I like to do the same with my van, which in minuscule in size. Also, boiling water on the stove (tea, soups, etc.) would steam it up.

I live in a temperate rain forest on coastal British Columbia, Canada. Although it snows little here, it rains ( a lot!!!) for the cooler months of the year (Oct. to Apr.). So the relative humidity outside will hover between 70% to 100% all the time. Condensation, mildew and mold need to be respected and controlled. So, you don't want to introduce any extra moisture inside your van during this period; I just want to ventilate and heat sufficiently to be healthy. Using propane inside, for unvented cooking or heating, is a unwanted source of humidity.

So, I tailgate cook and dine. My Aerostar rear hatch flips up and provides a small porch roof for rain shelter. Sometimes I slip a small tarp on top and drape it over one side for wind cover. I use a small table for cooking and eating on, and the back cover area is my pantry and outdoor cantina. I have a curtain across the back hatch opening, so cooking smells, grease and too much outdoor moisture drift inside the van. Sometimes I eat outside, sometime inside. Depends. The weather also affects what I will cook or eat, but more on that later.

For now, I use the basic Coleman two-burner propane stove. I have a bulk 5-gallon tank with gauge and safety regulator, and I use a hand held sniffer for safety. I have a backup small disposable 1lb propane cylinder if I run out while cooking; it hasn't happened yet. Simple cooking gear, one medium saucepan (pot) with vegie steamer insert, two smallish pans (one cast iron, one T-fal nonstick, w/ lids), some odds and sods and there you are. Basic spices, oils, cooking/cleaning/eating things, one medium size cooler (uses ice), simple, simple, simple.

For breakie around the van, usually I just boil some water for coffee and cleanup. Sometimes hot cereal. In the city, I stop at the quiet end of urban parks, staying away from people so I don't get disturbed too much. When the weather starts turning nasty, I try to find places that have wind breaks around them; some parks have covered barbecue pits or gazebos. Since the temperature here rarely goes below freezing in the winter, the average winter daily high is around 5 -10 degrees C or 40 - 50 degrees F, so it's pretty mild. I can eat/cook quite easily outside for 10 months of the year. It's only when the winds are very high, or it's absolutely teeming with rain or really cold, that I go into hibernation mode.

Lunches for work are a simple affair, essentially cold plates of veggies, cheese and meats or sandwiches; sometimes I eat the same for dinner. Dinners, I eat hearty soups and stews; I prepare pan 'fried, roasted, seared' meats, poultry and fish. I'll steam some vegies or make an accompanying salad, depends what I got in the cooler. I prepare/eat small portions of boneless cuts of meat, which cook very quickly. Maybe a stirfry over rice, tacos or a hamburger. I like easy, fast and nutritious meals. As I mentioned earlier, I don't store much, so I always eat fresh food. Plain Jane. Simple.

For the two coldest months of the year, I still do the breakie thing, but dinner becomes more challenging. I'll eat dinners quite often at my friends'/folks' place. I'll splurge and use a reasonable diner/pub maybe two evenings a week, or just create a cold plate (very easy). Even during the coldest months here, there are lots of days I can still cook outside; I'll just eat inside the van. I dress appropriately for the weather and I'm not really cold. With long johns, gloves, boots, wool toque and a vest, you are quite warm around freezing temps., when out of the wind and rain. Of course, I am a Crazy Canuck, but I don't live in an igloo. Not yet. 'Tho, it would be neat to check it out one day. Bon Appetite!!!


Anonymous said...

THank you for the informative post! You're the best man.

-- Your fan.

Anonymous said...

I do mostly the same, plus smart mug, 12v frying pan, and canning things.

If you make extras of your hearty stews and can them, then you can just pop them up on the defroster and eat them when the weathers bad.