This blog is about my adventures in cooking…in an RV… in Florida… in 90 degree weather. Ah, the stories I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren!
The Cooking Backstory
I used to be a very adventuresome cook, pulling interesting, complex recipes from magazines and cookbooks to try out on whatever unsuspecting diner was around — usually my husband and kids. Through the years, though, I cooked less and less because I had more and more to do (working fulltime, going to school). I no longer had the time to spend searching for recipes and preparing lavish meals for a family who may or may not be there at dinnertime.
Still, I remember spending a day making ravioli from scratch, rolling out the dough, cutting each piece individually, filling it with cheese, and crimping each edge with a fork. The dish turned out really well; the ravioli was topped with a meat sauce also made from scratch and finished with bubbly cheese. It was, to my husband and me, delicious, but when I asked the kids what they thought of it, they informed me they liked the canned ravioli (i.e. Chef Boyardee) better. That was the last time I bothered making anything from scratch.
After my divorce (completely unrelated to my cooking), I determined that cereal was a perfectly acceptable meal, when supplemented with vitamins and other alternate forms of nutrition, and it became the mainstay of my diet (along with takeout Chinese). Interestingly, I found other single women who felt the same way. For us, eating is either a social activity or a purely utilitarian one, so if there’s no one there to share a meal, why bother with anything that takes time and effort? I suppose, on some level, I didn’t feel important enough to warrant a prepared meal, but, in fact, I wasn’t interested enough in food to even feel hungry most of the time.
Fast forward to 2014: I had become friends with a Canadian snowbird in the neighborhood when he decided I wasn’t going to eat unless he fed me (probably a valid observation) and we began having dinner together on a regular basis. He was an excellent cook and seemed to enjoy preparing the meals, so when my awkward attempts to reciprocate resulted in less-than-appetizing dishes on a couple of occasions, he determined that he would continue to cook and we would continue to eat well. I was enjoying being taken care of and, with my assertions that I really was a decent cook unconfirmed, I just went with it.
The Cooking Challenge
Fast forward to this past snowbird season: The economy was worse, the weather was worse, and my Canadian friend was in no mood for incessant meal preparation. My first order of business was to prepare a traditional American Thanksgiving meal for my Canadian friends, with turkey and all the fixings. Of course, as I later found out, Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving themselves, just on a different date (who knew?). Still, I was going to fix the dinner that I considered the quintessential Thanksgiving: turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, corn casserole (aka spoon bread), candied yams, cranberry sauce, and both pumpkin and pecan pies.
Despite having to farm out some of the dishes for cooking, and carrying the food to another place for dining since mine was too small, the meal turned out well and we all had a wonderful time together. Unfortunately, in the middle of cooking my convection microwave stopped working and I ended up having to replace it. Apparently, the microwave turntable was unable to turn due to the size of the turkey, which — aside from resulting in one side of the turkey being seriously overcooked — fried the circuitry in the oven. [Note to self: skip the turkey and buy a large chicken next time].
Still, undeterred by my $300 screw-up at Thanksgiving, I was determined to share the cooking load this season, so I got on Pinterest (having just discovered that most fascinating of time-wasters) and began pinning recipes I thought my friend and I would enjoy. He had mentioned that he loved lasagna, so I pinned Italian dishes, then Mexican dishes, Chinese dishes, even French and the occasional Thai dish. It had been years since I had immersed myself in cooking, and I was excited about the possibilities.
Now, I should point out to those who haven’t been following my blog that I am currently living in a 31′ RV, my counter space is exactly 13″ (I measured it), and I have a small 3-burner propane stovetop and a convection microwave oven that requires me to turn off my air conditioning whenever I use it to prevent tripping the breaker. Cooking in my RV — particularly more complex meals — is akin to riding a tricycle in 90 degrees through an obstacle course while balancing a stack of dishes on one hand. In local parlance, it ain’t easy.
Nevertheless, I managed to make lasagna, eggplant Parmesan, boeuf bourgignon, and chicken enchiladas that even Julia Child would have envied, despite balancing the dishes on the edge of my sink and chopping vegetables on top of my computer. Whenever my friend would mention something he loved to eat, I’d pin the recipe, buy the ingredients, and make it! If I thought of something that sounded good to me, I’d pin the recipe, buy the ingredients, and make it! I was thoroughly enjoying myself, except when I had to do the mound of dishes in my sink, sometimes in two loads. The other issue I forgot to mention, though, is storage…
I have the typical RV refrigerator/freezer and less-than-adequate storage bins, and — I’ll admit it — way too much stuff, which means that I have to be very careful what I buy, and even when I buy it. So purchasing the ingredients for a dish right before I make it is almost a necessity. Otherwise, I have to cram them in wherever I can find room, and, as is obvious below, that’s easier said than done.
In addition to working in a kitchen the size of a phone booth, with appliances just slightly larger than my grandchildrens’ play kitchens (a good friend and fellow RVer lovingly referred to it as a “Barbie kitchen”), I realized that everything I’d ever learned as a cook was unsuitable for this lifestyle. For example, it is impossible to have frequently-used items on hand, with the exception of salt and pepper, so you have to go to the grocery store frequently — and I hate going to the grocery store. Also, it is highly inadvisable to make anything in batch form, unless you’re cooking for a dinner party (if you happen to have room for a dinner party and know enough people to invite to a dinner party — no and no). There is very little space to store leftovers, and I don’t know how to cook for just one or two, which does create a dilemma.
So one day, when my Canadian friend and I were tired of cooking, we went to a Chinese buffet and treated it as a fine dining experience, putting small amounts on our plates at a time and enjoying each plate as if each were a gourmet meal prepared just for us. We were there for two hours, and I thought at the time, ‘I wish I could empty my fridge and just fill it with Chinese leftovers…’ The photograph at the top of this blog is of one of my plates from that day.
Now that my friend has gone back to Canada, and I’m having to cook for myself again, I have to say it’s gotten easier, somewhat… The idea for this blog occurred to me as I was picking rice off the floor, where it landed (among other places) when I dropped the dish as I was taking it out of the microwave, having no place to set it quickly. I was making stuffed peppers, and this was my third attempt at making rice — ultimately successfully, I might add.