Ready, Set, Cabana! A Foodie-Focused Central CA Trip from Cookbook Author Dawn Perry

A few weeks ago, my husband and I had the pleasure of zipping up the California coast in a stylish, comfortable, super groovy Cabana. He drove while I acted as the Assistant to the Navigator. This is different, mind you, from an Assistant Navigator as my sense of direction is so-so at best. What I did steer, as usual, were the provisions: snacks, meals, and drinks are my domain. No maps, no apps needed. 

My new book, Ready, Set, Cook, is all about making great meals with what you have on hand. How, with a well-stocked pantry and a few homemade staples, you never have to work (or think) too hard to make delicious and satisfying meals. Cooking in a camper van seemed like a great way to test this theory so I put together a tiny portable pantry and made a few of my favorite staples before we hit the road. 

I packed my holy trinity of olive oil, kosher salt, and black pepper along with a few recipes from my book. The Lemon-Lime Cabbage, Maple-Coconut Granola, and Lentil Parmesan Soup are all things I knew we could easily reheat or assemble at our campsites or alongside the road if we happened to pull over to take in a vista. I threw in some marinated tofu and half a bunch of spinach that needed to be eaten, some salted peanuts for snacking, and half a container of Greek yogurt. We were on our way. 

We spent our first night in See Canyon near San Luis Obispo on a charming and well-appointed apple orchard complete with hot showers, fire pit, and pets –– goats, chickens and a nearly-too-friendly orange tabby cat kept us company around the fire. It was just about dark when we arrived so we hooked up the stove–which slides out from the trunk–and reheated the lentil soup in the pot provided. We ate at a picnic table under the stars, slurping soup and warming our bodies from the inside out. 

The next morning we headed into Los Padres National forest to climb the Cerro Alto peak. After taking in the stunning 360° view at the top, we jogged back down the mountain to make lunch. I tossed the lemon-lime cabbage (which I’d stashed in the Cabana’s deceptively roomy under-the-bed fridge) with the tofu, spinach, and a handful of peanuts for a crunchy, tangy, nearly effortless, post-hike lunch. 

Dawn tossing salad with lemon-lime cabbage

We drove into wine country for a laid-back tasting at Kiamie vineyards, followed by an early dinner of world-class wood-fired pizza at Ember in Arroyo Grande. That night’s campsite was a working farm in Los Osos with incredible views of the rolling peaks and surrounding farmland. We woke up to the musical moos of cows all around, made coffee (provided in our Cabana), and ate yogurt and Maple-coconut granola while we took in the changing light on the hillside. 

Morning views from Dawn Perry

That afternoon we made our way back south to Los Alamos for a dreamy afternoon in the sun-dappled yard at Bodega (for natural wines and local music) followed by dinner at the much lauded Bells. Worth. All. The. Hype. 

As we made our way back to LA, we chatted about what a fun adventure it had been. And an easy adventure at that. With just a little advanced planning we got to take in far more than we would have had we booked a hotel and rented a car. We got to eat where we wanted whether that was in folding chairs on our laps or at the nearest Michelin-starred eatery. It was convenient, flexible and adaptable to our whims and desires. Just like cooking from your pantry. 

Set yourself up for delicious success on your next Cabana adventure with these three recipes from my new book, Ready, Set, Cook, available November 2.

And here are 3 recipes you can make ahead of time to take on your next Cabana trip.

Lentil Parmesan Soup

Lentil parmesan soup will reheat well on the road (Photo Credit: David Malosh)

Active time: 30 min

Total time: 1 hour

Serves 8 

  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped 
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped 
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt, divided 
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 2 cups dried brown or green lentils (soaked overnight if you remember) 
  • 8 cups water or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup shredded or grated Parmesan, plus more for serving, plus rinds if you have them
  • Chopped cilantro or parsley leaves and stems, for serving

Heat oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium high. Add onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring often, until tender and beginning to brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Make a little hole in the middle of the veg so you can see the bottom of the pot and add the tomato paste, cook, stirring it into the vegetables, until it starts to darken in color, about 2 minutes (really wait for it: once the tomato paste starts to caramelize it will had a TON of flavor to the soup, especially if you’re using water and not broth). Stir in the lentils, bay leaf, water, Parmesan rinds if you’ve got ‘em and remaining 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until lentils are tender, 30 to 35 minutes. (if you soaked the lentils they’ll be done in about 15 min). 

Remove soup from heat and stir in 1 cup of the Parmesan. Taste and season with more salt and pepper if you like. 

Top bowls with lots of Parmesan (like a ¼ cup each), cilantro and a drizzle of oil. 

Lemon-lime Cabbage

Lemon-lime cabbage is an easy item to pack in your Cabana fridge (Photo Credit: David Malosh)

Total time: 5 minutes 

Serves 4

  • ½ head red or green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced 
  • 3 tablespoons lemon or lime juice 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt 
  • Pinch sugar 
  • freshly ground pepper
  • Pinch red pepper flakes, optional

Toss cabbage with lemon or lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and a pinch each sugar and crushed red pepper flakes. 

Maple Coconut Granola

Start your day with delicious granola (Photo Credit: David Malosh)

Active time: 5 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Makes about 8 cups 

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut chips
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans, walnuts, or almonds, roughly chopped) 
  • 1 cup Rice-Krispies-type cereal or corn flakes, optional
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter (or vegetable oil if dairy issues)
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Combine oats, coconut, nuts and cereal, if using, in a large bowl. Melt butter in a small skillet or saucepan. Remove from heat and whisk in maple syrup, brown sugar and kosher salt. Pour over oat mixture and stir until evenly coated. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and bake (no stirring!) until deeply browned, 45 to 50 minutes (it will likely look done around 30 minutes, but keep going). Let cool completely. Use a spatula (the pancake turner kind) to keep granola in nice big clusters. Transfer to an airtight container. Granola will keep at room temperature up to 2 months. 

Planning for your Cabana trip? Start with everything that's in a Cabana.

READY, SET, COOK by Dawn Perry. Copyright © 2021 by Dawn Perry. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

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