A mere three days away from the release of our soon-to-be critically-acclaimed cookbook, Forks in the Road: Recipes from Overlanding the Pan-American Highway, we feel it's our duty to provide you with a glimpse of the trials, tribulations, tantrums and alcohol-fueled late-night sessions that brought it into being.
What's the best way to test the relationship of the ones you love? Long-term travel. What's the best way to ensure you never want to see each other again? Travel long-term while simultaneously attempting to write, photograph and publish a cookbook.
We drove 25,000 miles through 13 countries while taking 2,780 pictures and writing more than 90 recipes spanning 210 pages and 45,000 words to make this happen. It was quite possibly the most difficult, delicious and time-consuming thing we did on this trip. And it was totally worth it. We hope you enjoy our efforts and a laugh at our expense.
The recipe that started it all was a batch of crepes, made way back in a scorching-hot campsite on Isla Ometepe in Nicaragua, shared with our overlanding friends James and Lauren of Home on the Highway. Bored and sick of the heat, I did a bit of Googling and figured out to make crepes using a spare package of pancake mix. James and Lauren were so taken with the dish that they recommended we write a cookbook. And the rest is history...
A day later we grabbed a quick snack at a local lake-side eatery that included this plate of delicious patacones. Double-fried plantains topped with grilled chicken. This and many other dishes were later added to the cookbook in an effort to lend authenticity to our efforts. We felt that learning, adapting and including local recipes from Latin America would prove to be an essential element to the book's success.
You might say we bit off more than we could chew with this decision. With limited gear and little knowledge of foreign ingredients, adapting local delicacies to an overlanding lifestyle did prove to be one of the most difficult aspects of writing the book. But it didn't seem right to publish and overlanding cookbook that focused solely on what we ate back home.
Fast forward six or eight months to our campground in Coroico. In this chair, situated mere miles from Bolivia's Death Road, the cookbook was born. In a fit of boredom, I wrote the first half dozen recipes and a rough outline figuring it would give me something to do while Jessica and Kobus toil endlessly at work behind their laptops.
The next morning the dialog went something like this:
Jessica: "What were you doing on your laptop last night?"
Me: "Writing a cookbook."
Jessica: "A cookbook?!"
Jessica: "Oh. You making breakfast?"
And so it begins. If only I knew what I was getting myself into.
Several weeks later from our campsite in Sucre, Bolivia, we made our first attempts at photographing the food. BBQ chicken, empanadas and stuffed apples were plated, arranged and shot. 35 pictures were taken and only one made it into the book. This ratio would hold true for the remaining recipes. The above photo of stuffed apples did not make the cut.
The white plate and bowl used in nearly every picture in the book were purchased at a Bolivian supermarket in La Paz. We eat all of our meals on plastic dishes, lacking a safe means of storage for more fragile alternatives.
The two pieces of fine Bolivian china we used for the photos were never eaten off of, to preserve the pristine finish, and spent many thousands of miles packed in plastic bags and stored inside our cast-iron Dutch oven. They made it through the trip largely unscathed, and live out the remainder of their days at a rental house on the coast of Brazil.
A month later in Argentina we celebrated Thanksgiving with five other overlanding friends. Recipes were shared, 50 pounds of pork roasted in a shopping cart, and one delicious apple pie was made by Jessica. Yes, that is a cheap bottle of whiskey she is using to roll out the crust.
The theme of meeting other overlanders, enjoying good food together, discussing delicious local eats, and drinking the night away was a common and most welcomed occurrence during our travels in South America. We owe much to those we've cooked for, who have cooked for us, and who have shown their appreciation by doing the dishes. If it wasn't for the support, feedback and gratification we received from fellow overlanders who joined us at the table, I doubt this book would have ever been published.
Throughout the weeks we spent in Northern Argentina, very little work was done on the cookbook. I toiled with introductions, chapter layouts and ideas for which recipes to include, but few words were put to paper. So we decided, as we have several times throughout the trip, that we needed to remain stationary, hunker down, and get some work done.
By time we crossed into Chile for the second time the recipe list had grown to over 50 dishes, and the thought of writing, cooking and photographing them all while camping seemed a daunting prospect. The solution: rent a beach house for 10 days and get 'er done. Also maybe find the time to call mom, update our blog and plan the next 2 months of our trip.
Three quarters of the recipes in the book were written on this couch. From brownies to biscuits & gravy. Fueled by 1.5 liter bottles of Flor de Caña rum and extra-strong Chilean coffee, the book finally began to take shape. By this point it had become a serious undertaking. There was no turning back now.
Along with writing the book we also became serious about testing the recipes and taking pictures. Nearly 50 dishes were prepared and photographed in the span of 10 days time. Lunch and dinner often involved each of us eating something different and fighting over the favorites.
All told the time we spent at the beach house in Concon, Chile saw us complete at least two thirds of the writing, photography and layout of the book. We left knowing there was much still to do, but with the feeling that the cookbook might actually be published in the near future.
Back on the road work slows considerably. We do our best to cook and photograph dishes and continue to write as time allows. Above, Jessica shoots the stir-fry recipe while I look on wishing for nothing more than to be able to eat dinner.
Little had been done during our 50 day drive through southern Chile. Spending Christmas dinner with our friends Mark and Sarah and new acquaintances Luis and Lacey gave us new inspiration and motivation to get back to work on the project.
Luis is the first overlander I've traveled with who shares a common passion of making good food on the road. We discussed our thoughts and discoveries after a combined 5 years of cooking and traveling in Latin America and I left feeling I had a better understanding of what the cookbook needed to be. Something for everyone, whether you have trouble boiling pasta, fail at pronouncing the word quesadilla, want to impress friends with your culinary genius, or simply lack ideas for meals that are easy to make anywhere in the world.
In Patagonia I discovered a method of cooking that has forever changed my outlook on life. But as this photo illustrates, it does occasionally involve violently violating a butchered lamb.
In southern Chile we witnessed our campground hosts vertically roasting a whole animal on New Years Eve. Asado Patagonico they called it. After they gave us a sample of the results, we knew it was something we'd have to try. Two weeks later in Mendoza, Argentina we gave it a shot, meeting up with the five overlanders who joined us for Thanksgiving months earlier. The outcome was so delicious that we immediately began planning the next overlander gathering.
Six weeks later in Bariloche, Argentina, we managed to convene a gathering of over 20 overlanding friends. Some of whom we hadn't seen in over a year. More than 60 pounds of meat were roasted in front of an open fire, including a gigantic rack of ribs, a whole suckling pig, and an entire lamb.
The Badass Bariloche Bovine Bonanza it was called, and we will never forget it. This event, along with our previous lamb grilling escapades in Mendoza, solidified the idea that our cookbook needed to contain a guide for cooking with fire.
How does one roast an entire animal using nothing but rebar and firewood? How do you bake brownies without an oven? Can I cook a roast over an open grill? The book took on new life, not only was it to be about the recipes, it needed to explain and teach methods that are crucial to adding variety to an overlanding menu.
Heading further north into Argentina's Lakes District, we took the final few recipe photographs. We made our third apple pie of the trip, using nothing but charcoal to do the baking, and planned a menu that included delicacies such as pulled pork, creamy apple curry, and slow-cooked chili. And, we unanimously decide to add Kobus' South African chutney recipe to the book.
It's hard to appreciate the work that has gone into the 80 or so photos that grace the pages of Forks in the Road. They say that a picture is worth 1,000 words, so in that respect Jessica has done twice the work I have as author. However this remains a point of contention between brother and sister.
Granted, making the food is one thing, but making it look good on camera is entirely different. "How should we plate the guacamole?" "What can we do to make the tortillas look less stupid?" "I'm not happy with how the stuffed apple picture turned out." "There are spots of light shining on the plate through the decaying roof of this campground shack." This is a small sampling of the problems, questions and arguments we had throughout the process of photographing the recipes.
Many, many hours went into plating, photographing and retouching each picture. Shots were taken from a dozen different locations under varying light conditions using a variety of backgrounds which made for a stupendous amount of editing work.
Shadows are in the wrong place, the plate looks blue, the place-mat is wrinkled, color correcting made the rice transparent; the list of photoshop files and a failed pictures stretch ten times longer than the pages in the finished product.
Now that the photos have all been taken, we spend a few days in a beach-side campground south of Buenos Aires gauging what work remains. I take stock of what is left to write while Jessica continues her work on the design and layout, and Kobus starts sorting out the logistics of actually selling something on our website. Even though the recipes have been cooked and shot, there is still a mountain of small tasks to be done, bringing our ability to finish the book before our trip ends into doubt.
In Buenos Aires we share an apartment with Luis and Lacey for five days, this proves to be the last time we spend with our two friends before parting ways, and also provides the motivation we need to finish the book in time for our return home.
Luis, pictured above uncharacteristically doing the dishes, suggested one evening that we send an email to the organizers of Overland Expo to see if we can get invited to the show. One giant email chain later and not only are we given free passes to attend, we're invited to be presenters, exhibitors and given a spot in the author's tent courtesy of our previous book about overlanding in Mexico and Central America.
So now it appears as if we have 2 months to prepare for Overland Expo. Not to mention we need to find out how to get ourselves, our car and our stuff home, only to leave 5 days later to fly to Arizona to promote a book we've been giving away for free for the past year, meanwhile continuing to live out of our car attempting to make the best of the end of our 19-month trip.
To top it all off we decide that if we bother to go to all this trouble to go to Overland Expo, something everyone is excited about, we might as well have a product to sell. The verdict: the cookbook must get finished! So thanks Luis, for vastly overcomplicating the last 2 months of our trip.
Work begins in earnest the following week in Uruguay. Jessica creates a first draft of the layout, putting in the recipes and designing the fonts, colors and whatever else it is that designers do. This gives us a small glimpse at the momentous amount of editing work that has yet to be done. As we come to find out in the weeks to come, just because the words are done and photos are taken, the final product is far from complete.
As we decided in Chile, the only way we're going to be able to get a significant amount of work done in a short period of time is to hole up in one place and put nose to the grindstone. Above, Jessica enjoys her morning coffee at our rental house near the beach in Brazil...the calm before the storm.
In the next 9 days the following things happen:
By the end our fridge-mounted to-do lists hold more crossed off items than not. A good sign considering how much work was done during our time in Florianopolis. We leave the beach house with a near-perfect draft, needing only one or two more read throughs to catch any last typos or spelling mistakes.
We had hoped to send it to the publisher before we left, but too many changes were still being made and mistakes introduced for us to feel comfortable doing so. We gave ourselves a few days of wiggle room, which it looks like we're going to need.
During our time at the house Kobus was woefully stuck in the middle of two feuding siblings. He may not have had a heavy hand in the making of the cookbook, but he did provide a ton of feedback and a few essential recipes. Not to mention that he basically kept Jessica and I alive by cooking almost every meal, and took care of a lot of important errands (like changing Blue's front bake pads) while the two of us wrapped up the book.
People often ask how we're able to get so much done in terms of our website, work and projects like this cookbook, while still having the time to go places and do stuff. It's largely because there are three of us. One person sucks it up and does the grunt work of cooking, driving, figuring out where we're going tomorrow, making a grocery list or getting the oil changed, while the other two are free to write articles or do work for clients back home. Without three people it's fair to say neither of our books would have been written, and rather than having 300+ articles on our website, we'd have closer to 100. It's a team effort.
From this campsite near Ubatuba, Brazil, Jessica and I make the last handful of changes. While simultaneously downing two drinks, Jessica submits the book to our publisher and we await approval. She continues to drink heavily in an attempt to block out memories of last-minute text changes that threaten to ruin her nobel prize-worthy design.
The next day the publisher gives us the thumbs up. 75 copies are ordered to arrive 10 days later at our mom's house. Finally! It's done.
It's worth noting that attempting to self-publish on a tight schedule while you're traveling has one serious drawback. Normally you'd want to review a proof of the book before dropping a wad of cash on a big order. We had to rely on our mom's feedback, and hope that nothing was lost in translation or changed at the last minute that negatively affected the work we've put countless of hours into over the past 6 months.
Just a few short days ago we finally saw the printed book. After 19 months of traveling I arrived at the airport and said, "Hi Mom! Long time no see. Did you bring a copy of the cookbook with you?"
And so, for better or worse, our tale comes to a close a mere 13 countries and 25,000 miles later. We have a new-found appreciation for cookbook authors the world over, and will never look at a picture of food the same way again.
Meet us at Overland Expo to pick up one of the first copies of the book. Or stay tuned to our website for an announcement this Friday, to order a print or electronic copy for yourself.