Cooking while You Travel: The Cookbook Project

by Britta on 14 October 2010

in The Traveler's Cookbook

If you knew me in high school, you’re probably surprised something like this is coming from me. I hated cooking then, truly believed I couldn’t do it. I was of the type who thought I could burn water. Fast forward 10 years (plus a couple more!), and here I am, announcing my latest project: A cookbook ebook for travelers. (An e-cookbook?)

Yes, I discovered that, not only do I not hate cooking, I actually really like it. And, it turns out, I’m not half bad at it.

Why I Love Cooking

French Wine Cellar

French Wine Cellar

I discovered this uncharacteristic love a few years ago when I lived in Hawaii, where the plethora of exotic fruits and veggies at my favorite farmer’s market inspired me to start experimenting in my own kitchen. Once I learned to cook — or realized I liked learning how to cook — creating a meal at the end of each day became a process I looked forward to rather than a chore that I tried to avoid. I also saw a few extra unexpected benefits: I lost a little weight and managed to save more money. My neighbors would also just happen to drop by during dinner time. I usually made them bring the wine.

While I was helping to take care of my grandmother last year, I used cooking as a way to transport myself to the exotic locales I dreamed of but couldn’t get to. Yes, it was a mild form of escapism, but one that nourished us both and, since Grandma was only picky about some things, she was usually a willing participant.

Cooking While Traveling?

While I was traveling, I discovered it was really hard to indulge this passion of mine. Experimenting was definitely out, and since I rarely had cooking oils or spices to use, most of the meals I cooked for myself were bland and unexciting. That’s why, when I got this idea, I was so excited. Being able to cook while I’m traveling (and not on some sort of cooking tour)? And actually making meals worth eating? The idea struck me as being, well, almost revolutionary.

Tomatoes at the Bastille Market, Paris

The Bastille Market in Paris

I did my research, though. I wanted to make sure that no one had actually done it before. There are plenty of cookbooks. There are plenty of travel books. There are plenty of cookbooks with recipes gleaned from travels. But there are none that do everything at once.

Here’s the thing: You simply can’t carry your pantry with you when you’re traveling. Or your fridge. It’s hard to cook for just one anyway, since most recipes make 2 or 4 servings, and most cookbooks and cookbook authors don’t care about having or not having leftovers, even the ones written specifically for single servings. So, no store of ingredients to choose from, and no leftovers after you’re done. Tell me which cookbooks do that.

Rules for Traveling Recipes

So, I decided to write one of my own, and established some criteria for recipes to be included in a traveling cookbook.

1. No leftovers. Not of ingredients or of the finished dish. Who wants to carry leftover stir fry in their backpack? (This is the most important rule. Most of the other rules are just variations on this one.)
2. Minimal ingredients. I didn’t really have a limit on ingredients, but I created all of these as single-servings, and too many ingredients equals too much food, which violates rule #1.
3. No obscure ingredients. These are supposed to be doable recipes no matter where you are in the world, so I’m trying to use only what I think are the most ubiquitous ingredients, or the ones that could be interchanged with a local ingredient.
4. Mostly fresh ingredients. Part of the fun of travel is visiting the local markets and seeing what’s available. Why not buy the makings of your dinner while you’re there? Plus, fresh always tastes so much better.
5. Not too complicated. One cooking style, and mostly stovetop. I can’t tell you how many hostels I stayed at that didn’t have working ovens, or where only one burner worked on the stove. One-pot meals are ideal.

However, it’s almost impossible to cook without oils, sauces, or spices. So, I’ve also come up with a small “kit” that you can use to carry these cooking essentials, and that goes along with the recipes in the book. You can get those little 1- or 2-oz empty bottles at REI and fill them with things like olive oil, salt and pepper, and spices. I’ll write another post on this later.

The E-Cookbook

When I returned to Alaska, I went through all of my cookbooks and selected the best recipe candidates according to my specifications, and have spent the summer modifying, combining, reworking and re-inventing them, along with making up my own. I’ve come up with 15 recipes that I wouldn’t be afraid to cook while I was traveling, and will, in fact, take them along with me on my next trip.

I plan to offer this cookbook as an e-book to start. I’m still researching ways to offer it in hard copy, but it will be available in paper format eventually. The rough draft is finished, the artwork is being prepared, and the pictures are being taken (there will be lots of photos. I hate cookbooks without photos).

The Official Launch Date is November 10, 2010. That’s right, less than a month. Sign up on the right to get updates (and maybe a sneak peek)!

And, of course, leave your thoughts in the comments. Got a great cooking tip that you used on your last trip? Or an idea for a recipe? Share them below.

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