Category Archives: RV

Adventures in Cooking

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.

The cross I bear. . .
The cross I bear. . .

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Update

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.

 

 

In Search of New Directions

I’ve been working on a few things, which I’ll talk about, but mostly I’ve been trying to figure out what I want/need to do at this point. Despite still enjoying myself immensely, I realize that I need to do more in terms of generating an income. Unfortunately, I have developed an aversion to working for someone else, and my creativity is screaming for an outlet (not literally, of course. . . I’m not hearing voices — yet). So my internet research has been ramped up in my quest for the next big thing in my life.

The New Addiction

I’m exploring my options, and having a darned good time doing it, but I have a confession to make first: I’ve become a Pinterest addict! The major problem with that addiction is that it takes hours out of my day that I could be doing something more productive [?]. I’m looking into making my own cleaning and beauty supplies, new ways of creating artwork, new recipes to try, and things to do to make my RV more liveable — none of which can be used immediately to generate an income.

Pinterest Email
My newest addiction!

My rationalization is that I’m working toward an epiphany (can you actually ‘work toward’ that, or is it something that just hits you like a lightening bolt?). At the very least, I’ll end up with new blog topics. . .

 

 

 

 

A Direction Without Chemicals, the DIY way

My first foray into the world of DIY stuff was body wash. It’s what I was getting low on, and I wanted to try out something that might make a visible difference in me. I couldn’t find a recipe for body wash that contained what I had, so I winged it (first mistake). I had heard about putting Ivory soap in a microwave and watching it blow up, so I stuck a couple of bars in the microwave on a paper towel (in lieu of grating them). They didn’t blow up, but they did do some very interesting lava-like things, and I was then able to put them into water to start my body wash.

I had a recipe for basic body wash, but I decided to jazz it up a bit, like adding different types of oils (coconut oil, olive oil, castor oil, Vitamin E oil, etc.), and of course some essential oils (lavender, tea tree).  There was a reason for adding everything (better lather, more moisturizing capabilities, antibacterial properties), but I think my ratios were off, because I ended up with what I would term a ‘snotty mess.’ Definitely not something you want to put on your body! So I began trying to fix the mess, which involved adding copious amounts of water.

A snotty mess. . .
A snotty mess. . .

Now, I should mention here that I ended up with a gallon and a half of body wash initially. I gave my neighbor the half gallon to try, with a request that she share her impressions with me after she used the body wash. Two days later, she told me that she had tried the body wash the night before, with less than desirable results. First of all, she told me, the body wash wouldn’t come out of the bottle. Major problem, to my mind. She described squeezing the bottle to put some on her shower puff, only to have it retreat back into the bottle  when she stopped squeezing it. And, she added, it didn’t lather — at all! So I asked her whether she liked the scent, at least, to which she replied, “not so much.” And the ‘snottiness’ had grossed out her husband.

Back to the drawing board. . . I took my gallon of body wash and made a gallon and a half by adding water. This resulting in it being so thin it just slid off my hands in the shower, and there was no evidence of soap in the mixture at all! Okay, so I added glycerin, which I’ve heard both gives the body wash actual body, and contributes to lather (which it completely lacks). Still no go, and I’m now using my shampoo for washing everything in the shower! It would have been better just to buy body wash, even with chemicals. . .

So my next foray will be into making my own body wash using lye, from scratch! Maybe I’ll be able to turn this new direction into revenue at some point. I suspect I need to make the acquaintance of a chemist, to help me with the formulation of my concoctions; at the very least, I need to research the properties of the various oils and other ingredients so I can create something better than what’s out there. Something that actually lathers (without using harmful chemicals) would be nice, for example. New learning experience — yippee!

The best thing I found in my research, though, was something called Detox Deodorant, and it is great! Here’s the link to the recipe — and I highly recommend it: http://bodyunburdened.com/diy-all-natural-detoxifying-deodorant/. It passed the sniff test even after a day, and you’ll notice if you take in too many toxins that it really does detoxify (not so nice after overindulging one night, I noticed. . .).

Detoxifying deodorant
Detoxifying deodorant looks worse than it is

The biggest problem with it — particularly in Florida — is that it is made from coconut oil, which provides its thickness, and when it gets over 75 degrees or so, it becomes a liquid. So I actually have to pay attention to the temperature after my shower to keep from spilling my deodorant — how many people can say that? It got high marks from my neighbor, by the way.

In addition to the detox deo, I’ve also started trying things to get my mouth in shape. Besides the brushing and flossing, I’ve added oil pulling, a practice begun in India. It’s apparently experiencing a resurgence in popularity (since I discovered it I see blogs about it everywhere) and I have to say, with no dental insurance in sight, it’s something I can afford to do that gets high marks among adherents. I can’t honestly say I’ve noticed the ‘incredible’ results others have, but my teeth do look whiter, and my mouth feels cleaner (except when I have a spoonful of coconut oil in it). . . I guess it can’t hurt.

The other ‘product’ I’ve started using is a remineralizing mouthwash, which has calcium and trace minerals in it. This is a recent addition to my routine, so I can’t really comment on its effectiveness. I use it after the oil pulling, and it does help to get the coconut slime out of my mouth after oil pulling. This sounds a lot grosser than it really is, and no, I haven’t stopped shaving or anything (for those of you who think I’ve gone completely au naturel). If anyone would like to try out the remineralizing mouthwash, I found it on Pinterest, but here is the actual URL for it: http://www.livingthenourishedlife.com/2013/09/homemade-mouthwash-recipe-for-whitening-and-remineralizing.

Remineralizing mouthwash
Remineralizing mouthwash — hope it works!

Lots Going On

Lately, I’ve had a ridiculous amount of things going on in my life, so I haven’t felt I could take the time to blog (a friend’s website to build, a fuel pump to get replaced, an RV to wash, a book to write). With my list of to-dos dwindling, I hope to get back to blogging soon — there’s so much to write about!

To my friends and family in the north, stay safe and warm! And feel free to get away from it all by coming to visit — you’re always welcome, you know.

The featured picture is a local band I saw down the street from my RV.

 

 

 

 

Observations On My First Year In My RV

I just realized I missed my one-year anniversary! I’ve actually been living in my RV for a full year now, and I thought I should commemorate that milestone with a post. So here it is. . .

What I’ve learned over the year

When I first started out on this journey, I was ecstatic — about everything! I was in love with Florida, with the idea of living and traveling in an RV, and with my life in general. I remember vividly the day I picked up my new (to me) class C. I had to wait for the techs to install the tow package on my car so I could tow it behind the RV, and I just sat at the dinette inside the unit with the sun shining in through the window, feeling so completely at home.

I now recognize that my excitement at the beginning of my adventure was as much due to naivety as to the incredible freedom I felt. For example, I’m not so in love with Florida now; although it does feel like  home, it’s not the paradise I felt it was when I first arrived. There is probably no such thing as paradise, and it’s about time I learned that! I have since discovered that in Florida there’s too much traffic, food prices are too high, and I probably can’t get health insurance. Still, I live less than a mile from the coast, I can go to the ocean (gulf) anytime I want, and the weather is a definite improvement over what I left. There’s a lot to be said for that. . .

20141115_171703
Can’t beat the view. . .

As for living in the RV, I have loved it! It’s my little house on wheels, and it suits me. There are negatives, of course: I have a chronically-overfilled refrigerator, storage areas that are bulging at the seams, and important items that I still can’t locate quickly (if at all). It’s not for everyone, but it works for me. I will probably end up in a stix and brix again someday, but for now, I’m working on making over my RV and thoroughly enjoying myself. It has become my home, and I’m completely comfortable living in it.

And I still love my life. I wake up in the mornings and feel excitement about the day, as I have from the beginning of this year in my RV. It helps that I’ve developed a bit of ADD; there’s no predicting where the day will end up when I flit from thought to thought, project to project, goal to goal, so the uncertainty adds to the fun. On the other hand, sometimes the uncertainty contributes to a bit of depression, which I rarely experience these days but it does happen. Since I’ve been here, I’ve tried to live in the moment, but I recognize that an uncertain future doesn’t lend itself to such a carefree attitude. So when I start feeling lost and depressed, I stick my head back in the sand (figuratively, although I could literally do that!) and I’m good again.

Observations about RVers

I was initially apprehensive about having to drive the RV, but I knew I could do it; confidence is everything! After I picked up my RV from the dealer, I headed out to an RV park I had found that was fairly close to the dealership, in case anything went wrong the first week or so. Because of a couple of wrong turns (which are a bigger deal in a 40′ vehicle — including the tow car — than in a car or truck), I arrived at the park as it was getting dark, so I had to back into my site for the first time in less-than-ideal circumstances.

Fortunately, as I discovered that night, RVers are a very helpful bunch, and my neighbors helped me get situated (i.e., properly oriented to the amenities: sewer, electric, and water). I have found this to be the case wherever I go. As I’m backing in to a site, invariably someone comes over to help, probably, in part, because I’m solo and female, but also because everyone likes to help a newbie. It’s comforting to know that I’m never out here alone, and the rest of the population could take a lesson from RVers.

I like to compare RVers to pioneers. They tend to be a hardier, more self-sufficient bunch, and they are not content to just sit back and watch the world go by.  This lifestyle (fulltime RVing, that is) requires constant resourcefulness, adaptation and learning, which I am convinced is the key to longevity — or, at least, the key to keeping one’s brainpower intact for the duration.

What’s been accomplished this year

Well. . . I have managed for the past year to live fulltime in an RV. That in itself feels like quite an accomplishment, but wait — there’s more!

I worked as a camp host at Fort De Soto for four months, which demonstrated that I could still get up for work in the morning, put in my hours, and come home and die afterwards — just like I used to! It was a fantastic experience, though, and I met a lot of great people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I got to enjoy an extended stay at a beautiful park which I actually could not have afforded for more than a weekend, and I learned I could amuse myself for four months without having someone else there with me.

I have also been making improvements to my ‘home,’ including installing new vent covers on all four vents/fans on the roof, replacing all the 12-volt lights in the RV with LED bulbs (for greater energy efficiency), and pulling out all of the carpet and putting down vinyl planks. I just (today) installed the quarter round with my new brad nailer to finish it off. It looks great, and I love the new floor. I feel like I might have a new career in carpentry (and I know my brother is shaking his head at that prospect)! I’ve also begun reupholstering my dinette seating with vinyl (easier to clean), without a sewing machine [see reference above to resourcefulness]. The dinette is still a work in progress.

Finished floor!
Finished floor!

 

 

 

 

 

Dinette before...
Dinette before…
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Dinette after

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The accomplishments are as important for what I learned from them as they are for the improvements made. Most importantly, I have learned to rely on myself more, and consequently I have renewed confidence in my ability to figure things out and get things done. This leads me to the most important thing I’ve learned this year, which is to feel grateful for what I have and what I am able to do. I would venture to say it is the single most important thing anyone can do to improve their outlook on life. Slowing down and [literally and figuratively] smelling the roses is the best way to recognize what there is to be grateful for.

What about the second year?

I am not as confident about this year as I was the last, having learned that RVing is not necessarily a cheaper way to live. So I have a home on wheels that is paid for. . . I still have to pay to park it somewhere! And it is much more expensive to stay connected on the road — a cell phone with good reception and reliable internet connectivity are required for most RVers who have left their family/support systems behind. Still, I have no intention of giving up this lifestyle just yet.

So, my next task is to generate some income. I have a few irons in the fire (well, maybe a couple), but I’m particularly interested in location-independent employment. I would love to be able to actually travel in my RV, which was my first reason for wanting to live in one. So far, I’ve traveled within a 40-mile radius on Florida’s Gulf coast, which does not exactly qualify me to call myself a traveler. . .  My first big trip will be this summer, when I head back north for a few months to spend time with my family and be available to welcome my twin grandchildren into the world!

In short, it’s been a magical first year in my RV, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the second year brings — new directions, new experiences, and new growth! Hopefully, I’ll get back to posting more often, since I have a lot of interesting creativity going on that I’d like to talk about . . .