Photo: Ali Slagle
Somehow, the solution to a cramped Brooklyn apartment was for my boyfriend and I to fit our lives—and the cat’s—into an RV. He spent the last summer building a Mitsubishi Delica with a sofa, a bed, a table and a kitchen. For six months, we would stop occasionally to gasp at our big wild country, then at Airbnbs so I could develop and test recipes for a full kitchen. As I write this, we’re meandering back to New York from Colorado, and hope to do it all again in the fall.
The irony is in our little van, everyday life becomes less cluttered. Our living room has become campfires in parks and on BLM lands. I saw again my cookbook last seen outside the Badlands in South Dakota and finalized his cover at a picnic table overlooking Devils Tower in Wyoming. And as for the kitchen in the van, it’s exactly what I need to cook two or three meals a day.
The tools below are essential, versatile, lightweight, durable and small enough to warrant inclusion in one of the three drawers that extend out the back of the van where the kitchen is (there is a rooftop bag with more gear for working at Airbnbs). With the exception of camping items like the stove and cooler, everything was already in frequent use in my kitchen in Brooklyn, but an RV is more like camping than apartment living. It’s often not easy or scenic, so you deeply appreciate the tools that help you make soup in the snow, sandwiches in a Cabela’s parking lot, and spritzes on the beach at sunset.
We had learned some cross-country road-trip lessons in an SUV a few years ago. The first was that I needed real coffee in the morning instead of gas station mochas. Although we changed the coffee van situation as we lived it, we still used local beans as its own form of tourism.
This kettle didn’t catch fire like the first one, so it can stay. Although its small size is ideal for storage, it only produces enough hot water for one cup of coffee. DTC Outdoor Brands: There’s a Serious Need for a Safe and Efficient 12-Volt Kettle…
We started the trip with a travel Aeropress – its all-in-one design sold me – but it tended to mess up (I blame the gadget, not myself). So I switched to a super basic plastic drip cone. It’s lightweight, sturdy, fits well in the Yetis, and the compostable filters are easy to dispose of.
This keeps coffee and hot chocolate hot for hours and, when you remember to close the lid, won’t splatter when you’re pushed around on bumpy roads.
This is our backup coffee; it’s like instant coffee with refined beans. You just need to put the filter on your cup and pour water on the ground.
It was the biggest splurge aside from the van itself, but we knew having a fridge would really help our spirits – the fast food and frequent snacks on our last road trip made me very grumpy and my body was craving green vegetables. My boyfriend chose the Dometic chiller because it’s highly rated, energy efficient, and has an app to control technical things that I don’t. I like it because it’s compact, doubles as a dining chair, and has everything we need for four to five days: vegetables, apples, cheese, jam, nut butter , cooked cereals, charcuterie, olives, seltzer water and beer.
Even if the van doesn’t have an oven, the baking sheets must come on the trip as they serve as extra counter and storage compartments. I can put a griddle on top of a stove burner if I need more space for ingredients or on the floor next to the fire as a clean surface for tools. When not in use, the sheets become compartments in the ingredient drawer to prevent cans and bottles from rolling around.
Foodies are obsessed with these scissors (really). They’re so small you’d think they’re meant for kids, but they’re ready for tasks inside and outside the kitchen. I often use them for cutting vegetables so I don’t have to mess up a knife and cutting board.
The cutting board I use every day, even before van life. While it has many benefits – durable, doesn’t stain easily, is gentle on knives – its biggest feature is the rubber feet that keep it from slipping.
These stackable measuring cups are so flexible you can squeeze them into any nook and cranny. They are heat resistant, so in addition to measuring things, they can be used as a ladle. We don’t have tumblers so we also use them for whiskey and cocktails.
I don’t respond well to the name or logo of this product, but our friend’s husband invented a gadget that we often use. The LighterBro is a sleeve that fits over a standard lighter and contains scissors, a knife, a screwdriver and, most importantly, a bottle opener.
A product that I have did buy because of its name. These oven mitts provide a good grip on hot potholders and are flame resistant, so they’re useful for adjusting campfire logs.
This camp stove can do everything a household stove can – and faster. Unlike some other camp stoves, the two burners can cook at different temperatures simultaneously and comfortably fit large pans. But her warmth is what’s truly stellar; I didn’t time it, but it looks like the water boils in 90 seconds.
The measurements on the side of the pot mean that I don’t have to separately use and wash a measuring cup when making something from a mix like ramen or camp food (good to go is my favorite so far). The colander lid means I don’t need a colander.
Does everything a cast iron pan can do but much less bulky and heavy.
Spoon and spatula in one.
This tableware is like a nicer melamine. It’s just as indestructible, but the colors and matte feel are so soothing to me. We use the low bowls for almost everything.
Our dishwasher setup is rudimentary and kind of an ordeal, but I think keeping it tough keeps us from creating unnecessary waste. We have one of those little trash cans to wash ourselves in (two bigger ones would be a luxury). It folds up and slips under the pots.
For scrubbing dishes and armpits.
This tank holds and purifies five gallons of water, and we’ve fitted it with the shower attachment to make it look like a false sink.
Campers know to leave no trace, so any water soiled from washing dishes, brushing teeth or showering (i.e. gray water) should be dumped into a dump station or buried away from a water source to avoid contamination. When there is more dishwater than our gray water container can hold, we dig a ditch to bury the filtered gray water. This shovel helps us with that and folds up very small for easy storage.
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