What cooking out of a van for 9 months taught me

I’ve always been taught that you should write about what you know. And if there’s anything I know after a 9 month road trip, it’s how to cook out of a van (or ambulance in my case). I would be lying if I said that food was never on my mind when we started to plan the road trip; to be fair I would be lying if I said that food was never on my mind, period. But I was really excited at the prospect of a) cooking my own meals as opposed to someone cooking for me like on the yacht (spoiled, I know), and b) being able to try all these different things in such a challenging setting – with my two-burner propane gas cooker and my fold out table.

I consider myself to be health orientated. I’m definitely no gym junkie and I don’t count every calorie – but I am a vegetable lover, and I eat heartily and well. So for me, I wasn’t going to let the van life affect my eating habits, or my relationship with food. And I’m proud to say that not once did I cook a meal of canned foods (apart from using creamed corn for a corn chowder… doesn’t count!).

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of cooking outside. No fridges, no appliances, no sound but that of the soft rustle of leaves and the gentle flow of the stream nearby. The dragonflies peeking at your vegetables, the birds watching overhead. A crackling fire with its smoke curling upwards, like fingers reaching for the sky. Your heart an ember in your chest, glowing and spreading warmth all the way to your fingertips.

I tried so many different things, from salads to curries to noodles to soup, and they always felt somewhat special. Whether it’s huddled in the van as the sky is crying outside, sat in the grass on a mountain side, or nestled in a sand dune by the ocean.

It becomes so much more than a meal to ingest – not that it ever was for me – and becomes an experience and a memory. I learned to appreciate each task, each moment. To take my time, and not to focus on the finished dish. Just to focus on this snippet of time, with Lachie’s laughter reverberating in my chest and the tangy taste of the red wine on my lips.

Since then, I cook less methodically, with a flow I didn’t have before. And since I didn’t have phone service in a lot of places we camped at and couldn’t jump on google when doubt reared its head, I learned to trust my instincts and developed my own taste for flavours as opposed to sticking to someone else’s. I used to worry about each measurement, eager to please and fearful of failure. But now I just have a good time, and I try lots of new things, and if it turns out crap I just shrug, I roll my eyes and I start again.

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