Small Spaces: The Art of Airstream Living with Heidi Swanson

Heidi Swanson's Airstream at Sanelijo.

Heidi Swanson is a bestselling cookbook author and a tastemaker. A James Beard-award double winner who specializes in natural, plant-based vegetarian and vegan recipes, she gorgeously chronicles what comes out of her kitchen at 101 Cookbooks.

We’re longtime fans, and it was on Heidi’s site that we first caught glimpses of her and her husband Wayne’s travels in their Airstream trailer. Next, Heidi presented “meal in a jar” and “just add water” recipes inspired by their roadtrips, but appealing to us for everyday.

“We’ve done plenty of camping in tents, in cars, and in our Airstream,” writes Heidi. “On the food front, the goal is always the same: delicious meals without a lot of fuss, gear, or cleanup, bonus points for being able to prep components ahead of time.” We needed to see and hear more. Heidi responded to our queries with a family photo album of trailer life and a slew of tips and tricks for tiny-space living. Summer, we’re now ready for you.

Photography by Heidi Swanson (@heidiswanson).

Heidi Swanson's Airstream life, Joshua Tree.
Above: Otherworldly Joshua Tree National Park is one of the couple’s favorite places to park, especially in the fall when the temperature drops. Heidi and Wayne, a web developer, started Airstream shopping several years ago when they moved from San Francisco to LA. They found their 23-foot Globetrotter, a new model sold secondhand, and ever since have been setting off on monthly jaunts to explore their new surroundings.

Reports Heidi: “We were first going to buy a new, single-axel Airstream, but while that one was being built—it can take months—this one came up on the used market at A to Z Motors and we grabbed it. It’s larger than we had envisioned and has a double axel, which makes it heavier to tow, but it’s been great for us.” They park it 10 minutes from their house and tow it with their Ford F-150 pickup—”navigating through LA in seven lanes of traffic is not for the faint of heart. We’re basically the slowest thing on the road.”

Heidi Swanson and Wayne Bremsen. Photo by Jeff at Dark Sky.
Above: The couple and Polly, their cocker spaniel. “When we venture out in our Airstream, our goal is simple: to park her in amazing places and explore,” says Heidi. We first featured the couple at home back in 2015 in Secrets from the Swanson Kitchen, SF Edition and followed up with Style Counsel: Heidi Swanson’s Travel Kit.

Admiring Heidi’s dress? We were, too. Turns out Heidi sews her signature uniform herself: “Every year I make a number of dresses that I work in. Between cooking all the time, camping, and having a dog, I’m so hard on clothes. I’ve probably made five or six versions of this dress in different fabrics; I do a bit of a hack on this Vali Dress.” Photograph by Jeff of Dark Sky RV in Kanab, Utah—motto: “Come for the sites, stay for the stars.”

Heidi Swanson's Airstream entry
Above: Essentials at the entry: Wayne’s beanie, the brush they use to sweep the floor daily—”the amount of sand, dirt, and dust that collects is wild”—and Polly’s Ware of the Dog raincoat. “I feel like we’ve been camping in every major storm that has hit the West Coast in the last couple years,” says Heidi.

The couple dubbed their Airstream B. Balena for baby whale: “she’s heavy, stubborn, and primarily migrates up and down the California coast.”

Heidi Swanson's Airstream at Sanelijo.
Above: Polly takes in San Elijo Beach on the San Diego coast. The table doubles as the food-prep counter and the dinette collapses into an extra bed. The adjacent twin beds serve as sofas by day and have storage underneath and overhead.

“We like the clean lines and minimalist interior of our Airstream and have kept it pretty much stock,” reports Heidi. “With a space this tight, the goal is to avoid being overwhelmed by stuff. We try to pack just what we need and use, but it’s an ongoing battle.”

Heidi’s air freshener: “I don’t burn incense in the trailer, but I tuck a packet into one of the shelves and it keeps the place smelling good. We’re currently using Fuego Zen Incense from Xinu in Mexico City: it’s made from beeswax, copaiba resin, and cardamom oil. I also love Bodha’s Purify Ritual Smokeless Incense with jasmine and rosewood notes.”

Heidi Swanson's Airstream kitchen.
Above: “I love cooking outdoors in all these beautiful settings, but our trailer has a pretty great kitchen: a three burner cooktop, a small oven, huge fridge, and a couple feet of counter space next to the sink.”
Heidi Swanson's Airstream kitchen sink.
Above: Heidi’s much-used cutting board travels indoors and out and doubles as a pizza peel. A magnetic strip hold knives in place even on bumpy roads.
Heidi Swanson's Airstream utensil drawer.
Above: “There aren’t many drawers in the Airstream, so every one becomes something of a catchall. I try to bring everyday basics I love to use—just about everything in our utensil drawer is a castoff from home. I love that little carbon steel Robert Herder knife and have one at home as well—it stays sharp, is perfect for peeling or paring, and great on a cheese plate.”
Heidi Swanson's Airstream kitchen supplies drawer.
Above: There are only two kitchen drawers—”to the left is the trash can; it just looks like drawers—so these get a good workout.”
Heidi Swanson's Airstream kitchen outdoor table supplies.
Above: “I bring my hand-spun brass Dabba from Diaspora Co. on every trip; I fill it with a rotating cast of ingredients from home—whatever spices and seasonings I’ll need. In our book Remodelista: The Organized Home, we adopted Heidi’s approach to herb and spice storage: jars hand labeled with washi tape on top assembled on a tray in drawer: see 8 Practical and Artful Ways to Label Spice Jars.

The salmon-colored napkins are by LA fashion designer Heidi Merrick from a few years back.

Heidi Swanson Airstream meals in a jar
Above: Two of Heidi’s Meal in a Jar recipes: Spicy Coconut Curry Noodles and Tortellini Soup, “a lentil and tomato stew spiked with spices”—assemble dried ingredients (these are in Weck jars). When ready to prepare, pour into a pot, add water and a can of coconut milk or tomato sauce, and simmer. What kind of pasta and dried mushrooms to use? A good coconut milk alternative? Bonus ingredients to consider adding? Heidi has all the answers on her site. Her meals in a jar are collected in her downloadable book, Recipes for the Road; $7—and she offers a sampling of the recipes here.
Heidi Swanson's Airstream on-the-road meal packets.
Above: Heidi’s Airstream travels also inspired her to develop a series of Just-Add-Water ingredient packets. Shown here on the top shelf are, among other things, pre-measured rice pouches (“I make note of how much water to add to each envelope”) and Heidi’s favorite Golda green tea. On the bottom shelf: packets for making a dip—just add yogurt—and Adventure Pancake Mix, both details in Recipes for the Road.
Above: Meal in a Jar Spicy Coconut Curry Noodles cooked in a Mushi Nabe donabe, $220. “I love the donabe because the clay really holds the heat and keeps the curry warm in case you’re up for seconds. For anyone worried about traveling with a clay pot, I store it in the box it was shipped in to keep it safe while driving.”
Above: Heidi’s Recipes for the Road Adventure Pancakes include rye flour, rolled oats, buttermilk powder, and chia seeds: add eggs, water, and an optional dollop of olive oil.
Heidi Swanson's Airstream life, Big Bear.
Above: The couple’s table for the weekend at San Elijo Beach.

Stay tuned: in the weeks ahead, we’ll be presenting Heidi’s outdoor cooking setups and art on the go.

See also:

N.B.: This post was first published on Remodelista on May 29 2023.

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