Real Talk: The Next Chapter’s Unfolding

As we’ve previously mentioned, Our Grand Tour is ramping up to head out on the road for real very shortly. We’ve sold our home in the super nova hot Seattle real estate market and set a date for our departure in mid-August. (First major road trip: North to Alaska!)

When we tell friends and family about this plan, there are two reactions:

You’re so cool! Man, I wish I were doing something like that. How awesome!!

OR….

You’re crazy!! Where will you go? What will you do with all your stuff? Are you NUTS?

The answers to all those questions are all still very much TBD. We’re both thrilled and a little terrified to start this new chapter with so many unknowns ahead. But, hey, that’s life, right?

We definitely never dreamed we would be taking this path, but, honestly, part of the reason we’re making this bold move… we can no longer afford to live in Seattle! It’s not the same city we moved to in 2007. And, while we truly wish nothing but the best for this beautiful spot on the Puget Sound, all the signs keep pointing us in this direction: GET OUT OF TOWN!

We’ll miss our friends, the vibrant food scene, the playoff-bound Mariners, our neighborhood, the Space Needle and so much more, but this isn’t goodbye forever. It’s just so long for now.

And… on that note! We have a new blog on our old newspaper. Please check out Going Mobile on The Spokesman-Review. Talk about going full circle!! We’re so grateful to have that platform to connect! We’re also posting our adventures on Instagram. Hope to see you down the road…

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Olympic Peninsula in a Peace Van
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Tiny Kitchen Challenge: Making Pizza

Leslie says: I’m kinda shocked to discover I really love the challenge of cooking in a tiny kitchen. On a recent hot springs tour around British Columbia, I used the excellent setup in our  CanaDream Class C RV to grill steak, stir smoked salmon into risotto, and, my biggest triumph yet, making pizza!

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Prepping is Key

Before we hit the road, I spent a few hours in my home kitchen, getting some dishes dialed in. Even when you’re traveling, though, that’s such an essential part of putting together meals in a flash. Plastic containers and ziplock baggies are perfect for keeping ingredients sorted. Even if it seems obvi, label and date everything. A little trick I picked up years ago, working as an apprentice in Tom Douglas restaurants.

Making Some Dough

Adapted from my favorite pizza dough recipe from the awesome Sara Moulton, I added the dry ingredients to a plastic bag and planned on finishing the dough on Pizza Day. That special dinner came at the end of a long day on the road and a relaxing soak at Fairmont Hot Springs, with the Rocky Mountains in the background. The kind of breathtaking, Instagram-worthy setting that reinforces this kinda crazy journey we’re taking. Before hitting the pool, I added water and some olive oil and put the wet dough in a sealed container, covered in the filtered afternoon sun. Two hours later, it had doubled, and was ready to go.

Crank Up The Heat

A blazing fire is best for creating the pleasantly blistered on the bottom, yet still soft inside crust and we had hoped to try this over bunch of crackling wood, but the weather turned drizzly. So, I tried the next best thing and heat my Lodge Cast Iron grill pan in the teeny oven. Ten minutes in, the smoke detector started shrieking. Not an uncommon experience when I’m in the kitchen. Johnny removed the battery — temporarily — and we were back in business.

Lodge Cast Iron
Charcuterie from the exceptional Oyama Sausage Co., on Vancouver’s Granville Island made this pizza extra special.

Getting the Dough in the Red Hot Pan

This took some team work, and while my first attempt to fill up the skillet wasn’t spot on, it convinced me to go smaller on the second round. While Johnny propped open the oven door, I transferred the dough from one of those floppy cutting boards. There were many ways it could have gone wrong, but it worked. I added the toppings — fresh mozzarella, pesto, chopped cherry tomatoes — after about 10 minutes, and let it cook another five. Probably could have gone a little longer.

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Arugula on top this caprese pie means you can skip the salad course.

The Take Aways

Our Grand Tour has been evolving towards a pretty low key approach to breakfast and lunch, while dinner is a big deal. It’s the evening’s entertainment — followed by a round of cribbage (we’re all tied up in this epic battle!) — so, I put a lot of thought into meal planning. Going forward, I’m going to focus on recipes from some of my fave cookbooks. First up, next trip: PNW Veg by my friend, Kim O’Donnel.

Wine Pairing

You think reds when it comes to pizza, but instead I poured my current obsession, an Oregon Pinot blanc from Elk Cove Vineyards. I love how this crisp, fruity white has the backbone to stand up to strong flavors like the pesto. It balanced the richness of the creamy cheese and brightened up the dreary spring evening in beautiful Canadian mountains. Of course, because we’re in British Columbia, we followed that up with a glass of merlot from Tinhorn Creek.

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Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot blanc is perfect with pizza.

Gear Review: Love the Coleman Stove

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When it comes to outdoor cooking, you want something that’s easy to use and store. For many years, we’ve been devoted to the Jet Boil for its light weight and ability to heat up quickly, but on a recent trip, we were mighty impressed with the updated version of the classic Coleman Stove.

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It’s About the Size of a Briefcase

Growing up, our family used Coleman stoves, and while they worked well, they were bulky and heavy. The newest model weighs just 10 pounds and fits neatly under a seat or in the trunk. It was included as part of the thoughtful perks that came along with renting a Westy from Peace Vans in Seattle. (Thanks, guys!)

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Compact, yet Powerful

This two-burner propane-fueled model throws out 20,000 BTUs, 10K per burner. Which is hella hot. We used it to cook sausages and fry potatoes and dinner was ready in 20 minutes. It was a little trickier to dial down the heat to scramble eggs, but we figured it out.

Wind Shield’s Are Cool

It wasn’t breezy enough to blow out the flame the days and nights we cooked outside on the Coleman Stove, but we still appreciated the aluminum shields that pop easily into place to keep the fire going.

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The Price is Right

Our beloved Jet Boil costs about $100 and is really best for heating up water in a hurry. (Does somebody NEED that morning cup of coffee? YES!) The Coleman retails for around $70, and has double the cooking space. It’s not going to make it into the backpack for an overnight hike, but it certainly makes cooking at a campground or at a picnic a lot easier.

 

Van Life: Campfire Cooking Challenge

Leslie says: One of the great joys of traveling in a van is being outside so much. The van’s a cozy shelter, especially on a rainy night, but there’s nothing better than an evening spent drinking wine, and hanging out around a blazing campfire. Unless it’s cooking over one. Here’s a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up since we started OGT. Scroll down to the bottom for an ultra-easy recipe.

Leslie cooking

Invest in a Good Grill Pan

Yes, most people prefer to fire up meat directly over the source of heat, but 9 out of 10 camp grills are either filthy or rusty, or the bars too widely spaced. I’ve had great results using my beloved Lodge Cast Iron on top of the grate, heating it up by placing the lid on top. Add olive oil, the seasoned meat and cover. Minutes later, flip and finish.

Double Duty

While the meat rests — on our most recent trip, I made carne asada from Trader Joe’s — I warmed a chili mac pasta I made the night before. Five minutes later, we were eating.

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Clean Up Tip

Our friend, Ted, is the one-man cleanup crew on backpacking trips, and he’s a big believer in warming up water in the dirty pan. Makes it a whole lot easier to scour. John tried it after this messy meal and it worked well. We haven’t quite figured out how to efficiently use the teeny sink in the Eurovan’s kitchen for doing dishes, so the operation’s done outside. The vehicle we rented from Road Trip Oregon had a spray nozzle in the back, which was so helpful. The more we travel in these rigs, the more we LOVE them.

The Recipe: 4-Ingredient Cheesy Chili Mac

  • 1 package black bean pasta (I use the TJ’s brand)
  • 1 can fire-roasted tomatoes with green chili
  • 1/2 jar salsa
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes

Cook pasta two minutes less than instructed on the package. (Because it’s going to finish cooking in the sauce.) Drain and add the tomatoes and salsa. If serving immediately, return to the heat and add cheese and warm until the cheese has melted. If warming up later, wait until the pasta has cooled to add the cheese.
Serves 4.

Wine Pairing Recommendation

Here’s a shocker! We drank a white wine with this hearty dish, a Pinot blanc from Erath. This dry, under-the-radar varietal has crisp fruit character and the backbone to stand up to all sorts of assertive flavors of the meal, brightening up the spicy beef and the cheesy pasta like the sun breaking through those gray storm clouds.

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3 Cool Tips for Teeny Kitchen Cooking

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She says: I’m now obsessed with looking at photos of people living the van life. (Considering we’re strongly thinking about heading down that road.) But one scene I rarely see if some real cooking happening in the carefully curated, Insta-worthy scenes.

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That’s probably because it’s HARD. Here are a few ways I tried to make it work in some super small spaces.

Take it Outside

Of course, it’s nice to have the option of scrambling eggs or simmering a big batch of chili inside on a drizzly day, but when it’s sunny, there’s nothing better than cooking out. Am I right? As much as I love the char that comes from searing meat on a fire, I’m a recent convert to the camp stove. They’re lightweight, heat up quickly and cook in a flash. Also! Invest in a grill pan. I absolutely love mine from my friends at Lodge Cast Iron, pictured below.

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Invest in a Lodge Cast Iron grill pan.

Get Extra Organized

On our recent adventure in the Peace Van, I was so impressed with how the crew had tucked all the essential cooking tools into bins. Need a spatula in a hurry? There are only two place it could be. It made me feel more efficient, and isn’t the smaller footprint what this whole Van Life movement is about? Keeping it simple.

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Plastic bins help keep everything organized.

Big Flavors, Small Containers

I’m forever searching for the best seasonings and condiments as a way to elevate other ingredients. New discoveries include Mike’s Hot Honey, Dank Sauce and San Juan Islands Salt and Pepper grinder. It’s so much fun to try them on my road food menu. That smoky/spicy Dank Sauce is now my go-to finish for fresh oysters, and the fiery honey warms up my post-dinner chamomile tea. Go get you some!

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What’s your favorite meal to cook outside? Please let us know in the comments.

 

8 Reasons We Fell in Love with the Peace Van

She says: We recently took an amazing trip to the beautiful Olympic Pennisula in a 1987 VW Westfalia from Peace Vans, a rental company in Seattle. It was our first real taste of what Van Life might feel like, and I think we’re in love. Of course, it didn’t suck that the mid-March weather was spectacular, which you can see in the photo below from our stellar site at Kalaloch Beach. Here are 8 reasons we love the Peace Van.

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Kalaloch Beach campground has a few spots right on the bluff. This one’s D-33.

1. Peace Out

After an excellent tutorial at Peace Van HQ on all the features of this retro rig — thanks, Jimmer! — we hit the highway, and soon we were getting flashed the peace sign from cars coming in the other direction. So groovy! That’s the universal way to say hey when you’re behind the wheel of these beloved vehicles.

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Bring on the tie dye! Leslie Kelly photo

2. Shockingly Comfy

We got the 411 on popping the top. It’s easy! Getting it back down and all the fabric tucked in is more of a two-person job, but we handled that. And while the top bunk is designed for sleeping, it was a little too cold for that this trip. Plus, you’ve got to do some gymnastics to get up there. And we like to drink wine around the campfire — Lange Estate Winery Pinot noir from Oregon was the fave on this trip — so, hopping up top seemed a little bit like an accident waiting to happen. Next time!

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We kept the bed out most of the trip because it was easy. Leslie Kelly photo

3. There’s a Place for Everything

Talk about downsizing! It’s an amazing challenge to keep it as tight as this snug space allows, but we made it work. The plastic bins the Peace Van team loads up with kitchen essentials, including condiments, spices, and a French press felt just about right. Not too much, or too little.

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Plastic bins help keep everything organized. Leslie Kelly photo

4. Two Burners are Plenty

I’m typically a messy cook who covers every surface of the kitchen, but this setup forced me to dial it way back. The two-burner cooktop inside worked like a champ. I scrambled eggs and made coffee in the morning, and in the evening, we used the powerful Coleman stove to sear steaks and grill bratwurst. Brilliant!

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Bavarian Meats bratwurst and Olsen Farms potatoes for the WIN! Leslie Kelly photo

5. The Way the Bedroom Doubles as a Living Room

Once Johnny figured out how to swivel the passenger seat around — on the last night — we tucked the bed back into its couch form and — boom! Suddenly it felt like we had a whole lot of room. Might be different if it was pouring rain for days and we were stuck inside, but this was a very cool revelation.

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Living room, bedroom, office, we were surprised by how roomy it felt. Leslie Kelly photo

6. No More Wet Tent

We’ve camped plenty in the rain, and even when it’s not dripping, there’s usually heavy dew. The weather turned nasty on that last night, and it was such a pleasure not to have to stake down the rain fly on a tent. Raindrops falling on the roof of a heated camper van sounded pretty sweet.

7. It Started Some Great Conversations

We enjoyed talking with fellow Peace Van fans, especially the mom and daughter we met at Peace Vans HQ in SEA. They were from Toronto and so pumped to explore the west coast, from Vancouver Island down to Cali. Randomly, we ran into them on our last night out, parked three spots away! So fun!!

8. They Make Road Trippin’ Extra Fun and Easy

On this chapter of Our Grand Tour, we went places we’d been before and saw them in a whole new light. Pull into your spot and you’re good to go. Also, having this self-contained teeny shelter pushed us to try some spots we probably would have avoided if we were tent camping. In La Push, for instance, we were basically hanging out in a parking lot with a bunch of surfer dudes. But we were steps from the most incredible beach, where we ate dinner and witnessed one of the most glorious sunsets of our lives. No joke!

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Our Grand Tour Started in the 1980s

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Colorado, 1983.

She says: It’s both thrilling and a little painful to look back on the decades Johnny and I have been together, adventuring. Painful because — damn — it goes way too fast. Cliche as hell, but true.

Celebrating Some Really Big Numbers

Next month, we’ll celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary, and we were coupled five years before that. So, basically we’ve been together a looooooonnnnng time. Sometimes, the journey has been bumpy, but never boring.

Confessions of a Couch Potato

My life would be completely different had I not hooked up with Mr. Nelson, and I’m forever grateful he pushed me out of my super chill habits (OK, I’m lazy) onto steep hiking trails, biking paths, ski slopes around the world — even when I crashed on double diamond runs I had no business attempting. When we were young and broke, we camped for fun, often “pitching out” in random spots around Colorado. In our 20s, we quit our jobs at the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and spent four months traveling on the cheap in Europe (photo below is from Paris, circa 1984). There have been tons of trips since and still have a long list of places we long to visit. Iceland, we’re coming for you, soon, we hope!!

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Paris, 1984.

Dream About to Get Realized

I still cannot quite believe that we’re on the same page — mostly — about our plan to hit the road, two Boomers on a grand tour, living the Van Life. In search for who knows what? TBD, y’all. There are still a lot of details that need to fall into the place, but I feel so fortunate to have my best friend/life partner on board for this upcoming wild ride. Got suggestions on where we should roll? Leave ’em in the comments, pretty please.

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Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, 2017.