Learning to eat simply—and well—and cook without a mess on the road
At home in Santa Fe, I joke that if my wife, Jen Judge, cooks, she will dirty every pot, pan, and serving platter in the kitchen. That’s endearing if you have the endless prep space and running water of home, especially when there’s a good meal at the end of all those dishes. In Artemis, the Airstream, however, a kitchen mess is about as adorable as a dump-station catastrophe.
One of our biggest learning curves has been figuring out what to eat and how to prepare it, simply. At home, we have a spacious kitchen that’s perfect for preparing expansive meals, and Jen and I love to cook and entertain. In Artemis, we have a good little kitchen with a three-burner gas range and a microwave-size oven, though counter space for food prep is tight and space constraints make cooking on more than two burners tricky. Whenever possible, which is pretty much always unless it’s raining or below freezing, we cook outside on the Camp Chef Tailgater to avoid heat and mess in the trailer. Even then, with 29 gallons of water to last us a week or three, recipes need to be simple, with one-pot options preferable to minimize washing up.
In Artemis, it’s not just cooking that has changed. One-shop towns in the rural West don’t have every organic nicety that you like to buy at home. So we adapt. Pre-washed boxed or bagged greens are the standard when we’re traveling. Stuff I think is totally crazy when we’re settled, like pre-cut garlic and cubed watermelon, are acceptable because they cut down on prep time and rubbish. One compromise I refuse to make, however, is paper plates or plastic cutlery. Call me elitist, but I cringe when I see the trash full after a meal.
The biggest challenge has been finding meals that are easy, nutritious, and reliable enough to procure no matter where we travel. Here are four of our favorites.
Green Chile Mac & Cheese
Our mac-and-cheese is New Mexico comfort food to the nth degree. At home, we make it with real cheddar, fresh roasted hatch chiles, and elk sausage we’ve stuffed ourselves. On the road, we start with some of the pre-cooked chicken or turkey sausage that just need warming in the pan, boil up a box of Annie’s Deluxe Mac & Cheese in the bits leftover from browning, and toss in a can of Hatch Diced Green Chiles to top it off. You can use the mild ones, but the hot variety tastes more like home. Yes, the traffic-cone orange of the package cheddar worries us a bit—though the ingredients list is fine—but relative to the powdered kind it means you don’t need perishable dairy in the fridge.
Thai Red Curry
Another quick and easy staple is a good Thai red curry. Normally, an aromatic curry paste requires half an hour and a convoluted ingredients list, neither of which is conducive in an Airstream. But Mae Ploy Red Curry Paste comes ready to cook and, a product of Thailand, tastes more authentic than anything we could cobble together anyway. This stuff is simple: stir fry a few tablespoons in oil (more if you prefer it spicy), add the creamy half of a can of coconut milk and simmer till the oils separate, toss in your ingredients of choice, flavor with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, fresh basil if you can find it, and the remaining coconut milk, and serve over rice. We favor chicken and mushrooms for fillings, but a curry is the perfect opportunity to use up dying produce, from red peppers and squash to spinach and eggplant. The other Mae Ploy curry flavors (green, yellow, Massaman, and Panang) are just as tasty, and though they all need refrigerating, we’ve kept an open tub of each in the fridge for months.
Post-curry, if there’s leftover rice, a good Fried Rice is the perfect use for it and any remaining withering produce. In a couple tablespoons of oil, stir fry chopped onion and fresh ginger and garlic, both of which we buy in jars for the fridge. Once that’s softened and translucent, add pork, chicken, or beef if you please. Dump in an egg or two after the meat is cooked and mix until scrambled and lumpy. Toss in the rice and veggies, including, but not limited to, broccoli, bell pepper, mushroom, carrots, and scallions. While still stirring to prevent sticking, spice it up with fish sauce, soy sauce, lime, a pinch of sugar, and chili paste. If you don’t have leftover rice, for this or for the curry, the Tasty Bite Jasmine packets are perfectly adequate and save time, propane, and mess.
The latest addition to our repertoire is a dish we learned at the Petra Kitchen in Jordan called Araies Lahma, or, as they cheekily put it, Bedouin pizza. This grabbed our attention as a perfect use for the elk in the freezer at home, but it’s great for the road, too, since ground beef is available almost anywhere. In short, you mix up a pound of ground meat, a chopped onion and two tomatoes, green chile, minced garlic, ground cumin, and salt and pepper. Then plaster the mixture inside halved pitas that have been basted with olive oil, and bake the wedges for around 12 minutes, flipping once. Though these are typically baked in an oven, the grill box of the Camp Chef works. Leftovers make handy trail snacks or fit nicely in a jersey pocket.
We mix up the menus as much as we can, but the truth is at least a couple of these dishes, served with salad or kale, often eaten straight from the bag, feature weekly. And yeah, even with these one-pot options, Jen can occasionally still manage to use every pot and plate in the Artemis. Fortunately, we only have a few.