5 Things We Couldn't Live Without in our Van Kitchen
After some time living in a van, we've had some time to reflect on all the things that make our van life fun, easy, and fulfilling on the road. One of the things we love to do on a daily basis in our home on wheels is cook. We only eat out occasionally (restaurants are hard on the pocketbook and make it a lot harder to control how the food is sourced and how much waste is produced in the process). Fortunately, we made ourselves a sweet tiny van kitchen knowing that we would be using it every day, so we come well-prepared. These are a few of the kitchen tools that make our van feel like a ‘real’ home for us.
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A Coffee Maker
We're not talking about the kind with a clock that plugs into the wall. Whether you're a hipster pour-over kinda guy or gal, a classic Moka Pot aficionado, or a diehard French Press-er, we feel you. We start our day with coffee every.single.day. Coffee fanatics have a way of being rather, well, fanatical about their coffee making experience. And let me tell you, there is nothing better than sipping the perfect cup of coffee while watching the sunrise over some spectacular place you rolled up to in the middle of the night. So you best have your coffee game ready when you hit the road. Personally, we are tried-and-true Aeropress fans, and we’ve carried one of these simple little plunger setups all over the world for about 8 years now. The Aeropress is our primary choice for a variety of reasons--one is that the coffee tastes damn good. Another is that it’s extremely portable. From backpacking trips to tropical vacations to everyday van coffee, this thing goes anywhere. Pro tip--check out the Aeropress website for lots of handy tips and replacement parts, there is tons of info here. This brings up the obvious point of the rest of the necessary items: coffee roaster of choice, hot water, grinder, half and half, sugar if you’re that weirdo that likes to taint your beautiful roast with heaping spoonfuls of sugary sweetness, etc. But we’re afraid that’s beyond the scope of this list. The whole coffee breakdown might have to wait for a future post, friends.
A Good Knife
There is nothing worse than bring home a plump, perfectly-ripe farmer's market tomato, then hacking it into a mushy pile of juicy red mess with your dull-ass piece of metal you try to pass off as a knife. If your kitchen knives are more like baseball bats than samurai swords, it might be time for an upgrade. We get it, we used to carry around a grand total of two terrible knives that we bought at Kmart for 10 bucks. Their usefulness lasted for about a week after we bought them, but we were making do. Then a few years ago, a very generous friend gifted us a gorgeous chopper knife from New West Knifeworks, a local knife shop in our home base of Jackson, Wyoming. And our cooking world changed. Seriously, we take this thing with us everywhere we go. When we're cooking dinner at friends' houses we hem and haw about whether it would be rude to just run outside and grab our good knife out of the van because it would make the cutting experience that much more enjoyable.
Last year we splurged and bought ourselves a new serrated knife, also from New West. These two knives cover all our needs: the serrated one for tomatoes, bread, and citrus; the chopper for just about everything else. We do still have one of our old Kmart knives, which comes in handy if we're both chopping simultaneously. But it is a serious game of rock-paper-scissors for who gets the good knife. In addition to being a local (for us) business, New West also manufactures everything in the US. They also offer free lifetime sharpening, so anytime our babies are getting a bit dull, we just drop them off for a couple days and they're like new when we pick them back up. They are also incredibly durable, and we plan on using them til we're old and grey. Sometimes the most economical and sustainable choice is not the cheapest up front, but ends up saving resources, time, and energy in the long run. Find yourself a good knife. You will not regret it!
A Cast Iron Pan
This is the true versatile workhorse of the kitchen. We cook almost everything in here. It’s amazing for frying up just about whatever you can come up with on the stovetop, and can also be thrown on an outdoor grill, campfire, or even in the oven. One slightly tricky bit is getting used to the cleanout and seasoning process--different people have different methods. We’re of the mind that a tiny bit of mild biodegradable soap and light scrub after each use will keep things from going rancid without destroying the seasoning. We do dry it out on the stovetop with a dab of olive oil after each wash. For storage while driving, we place a designated towel inside the skillet and stack the other pots inside of it inside the cupboard. That towel gets washed every so often with our other dish towels. Ours is a Lodge 12-inch skillet. We’ve had it for a few years and couldn’t be happier with it.
Real Dishes and Silverware
People are often surprised that our kitchen doesn’t contain more plastic. There is nothing that makes our van home feel more like a ‘real’ home than real dishes. We’ve got a grand total of 2 plates, 2 bowls, 2 ceramic mugs, 4 butter knives, 4 forks, 4 spoons, none of which is plastic. We’re not exactly sure why everyone's so surprised that we use real stuff--is it because they think it will rattle? We keep most of our dishes in a dish drainer in the bottom drawer of the kitchen, so we don’t have issues with that. The silverware also lives in a drawer in one of these handy hanging metal baskets that coordinates with this set from Ikea. Is it because they think it’s breakable? We actually find most ceramic dishes and metal silverware to be super durable, but we also bought everything at a thrift store for a grand total of about $10, so we can easily pick up another if we do drop something. We should say that we also have a super-lightweight backpacking kitchen set from MSR that we can break out if we have guests over for dinner and need extra plates and bowls, but otherwise we find our plastic-free kitchen to be totally adequate.
This is the one item on the list that we specifically bought for the van; everything else came from our pre-fulltime-vanlife stash. We found these online as we were searching around for organization solutions for the van kitchen. We’ve got four total, in two different styles: one for fruit that lives on the countertop; one in an upper cabinet for coffee stuff, granola bars, other random loose items; one in the fridge that holds all the veggies, and one that gathers all the random little things that would otherwise be floating around and lost in the nooks and crannies of our van (AKA the ‘squirrel pile’). We love that they are flexible, washable, and sustainably produced. The surface also grips a little to the countertop so we can leave the fruit bowl out while we drive--Bonus!
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