Complicated Problems, Simple Solutions

In a small and simple RV life we strive to look for things that make our life less stressful and more flexible. Much of that has to do with trying to anticipate future needs, to plan more for where we want to be and less reacting to the current situation. Also, we try to find simple solutions to complicated problems. Karen and I have been living in an RV less than a year but it seems that the planning, like many nomads, has been going on for years. Lead time is important but sometimes experience is gained on short notice. 

Before

We had been house dwellers before. Neither one of us was enamored with the time and expense of maintaining a house. Then we became apartment dwellers. That was better, but tiny houses and a minimalist lifestyle we calling. We moved in the direction of RV living because we wanted to wander and that appeared to be the best way to get there. 

I want to point out that none of these moves was a snap decision. All of them were the result of long discussions and research. No one should sell everything and hit the road on a whim. We were very good at negotiating and, looking back, things appear far more logical and deliberate then they appeared at the time. Most of the decisions went well. 

During

After we got HaRVey, we became immersed in outfitting and modifying him for the life ahead. Shelves, bars, drawers, composting toilet, these were the biggest concerns at the time in addition to deciding what stays and what goes. It’s truly amazing that when you only have this tiny amount of storage, lots of things change their status to nonessential and we play lots of episodes of “Can we sell it?” I. Think from all the furniture and belongings that I inherited when my Dad passed 11 years ago.

After a couple of small outings to learn how the RV feels in use, we struck out on the road for six weeks and crossed the country twice, experimenting staying in a variety of parks and situations. Then it was back to Flagstaff because of work commitments and we settled for the time being into a local RV park, anticipating the next phase of our life as nomads. We reviewed what we had learned and decided things had gone well and we planned to go full nomad sooner then later. 

After

So, we come to the beginning of fall, the weather starts to cool down and we’re planning when to cut the cord and launch into full time boondocking. Karen and I have both lived in cold climates like New York and Michigan. We have lived in the Flagstaff area going on three years and we know it gets cold here in the winter. Frankly, so do RVs. Halloween was our go date. I had some questions on how you keep everything running during the upcoming winter so I asked around some of the RV shops what to do. 

BRRR, It’s Cold

They seemed to be of the consensus that I had to get winterized with special antifreeze and such. Oh? Your going to live in it? Well then, you need a skirt to put around the bottom of the RV to keep the cold wind out. Also maybe some lights underneath to keep it warm enough so everything doesn’t freeze. And a heated water hose so your water supply doesn’t freeze. 

This seemed to be getting more complicated as it went on. And the people seemed to be ignoring the fact that I had said boondocking, meaning power for the heated hose and the lights under the RV was a non starter. We have solar, not a generator and the fuel for that would be expensive, not to mention the cost the generator. Generally they said this wasn’t going to work without an RV park and hookups. 

A Closer Look At The Problem

In a small and simple life we look for solutions that move away from complexity. All this lights and skirts and heated hoses and blah blah blah was becoming messy and convoluted. We went back to restating the problem. How do. We keep the water in the. Lines and tanks from freezing during the coming winter? Drag a skirt for HaRVey everywhere we go while we frequently move? And all the other stuff. Tortuous, complicated, cumbersome. Not minimal or simple. 

Circle back to the problem. Water in the pipes. Humm… do we need water in the pipes? A pump or a pipe freezing is expensive and problematic while a gallon container, not so much. Why does it seem that everyone assumes there must be water in the pipes and tanks?

There Is No Box Here

So I opened the valves and emptied the fresh water system and made sure that the grey tank was responsibly dumped. Nothing has been in the system since October 31 and it all seems to be working out. No freezing problems because there’s nothing there to freeze. We have become used to buying water by the gallon container and cleaning up with spray bottles. Ok, so we use correspondingly more paper towels. 

So the solution to the problem turned out to be something no one offered. When we bought the RV I wondered wether a 30 gallon tank was big enough. Now we go two and a half to three weeks on that. I used to believe that indoor plumbing was the greatest invention mankind ever created.  Now I’m not so sure. Going back to a relatively primitive solution has worked out for us. Or, why invent the wheel again? Just because its old school doesn’t make it a bad idea. 

Ok, I. Know someone is going to say “What about showers?” Join an athletic club. It’s cheap. And a small and simple solution to a complex situation. 

Ritual And Routine

In a small and simple RV life, we use ritual and routine to organize our daily life, reduce the chaos, and increase efficiency in the things we do. Although many dictionaries define ritual and routine as mostly the same thing, I would like to differentiate them by designating ritual as things we are accustomed to doing and routine as procedures we have worked out to perform certain tasks in a safe and efficient way. The way we set a table is an example of routine. The way that we hook up a trailer hitch, that is routine also. Ritual is a selection of arbitrary choices driven by preference or custom, routine is developed over time to be the best and often the safest way to do something. 

Why Is This Important?

Ritual and routine are important in our small and simple life because they allow us to engage in mindfulness and can allow us to be more in touch with our life. Mindfulness is being aware, in touch, and thoughtful. It is what is often referred to as being in the moment.

As nomads, we frequently change locations. We go to new places, experience  new situations. It’s important that we keep our head about us. There are lots of moments to make sense out of.  If you’re used to seeing the same old stuff week in and week out, you’re less prone to pay attention. Who hasn’t had the experience of driving back and forth to work and not remembering what we saw? “What did you see on your way home today, Honey?” “Nothing.” What we really meant is we didn’t pay attention. We weren’t mindful. We weren’t in the moment. 

About Ritual

Here are some examples of ritual. We like to have coffee in the morning. Lots of people do. We could have tea but we have coffee. Also, we have bacon and eggs for breakfast every day. We could have pancakes or cereal but we like bacon and eggs. I have a grey sweater I like to wear a lot and have for years. All these things are driven by preferences. But we’ve actually noticed them and talked about them. We look for different flavored coffees. Our preference for the same breakfast is not only driven by taste but by scheduling and cost planning. My grey sweater not only keeps me warm but connects me in a sentimental way to pleasant memories of my father. (It was his.)

Yet if we drink tea or eat cinnamon rolls or I buy a fleece vest, nothing breaks, no one is injured, it would just be another way of doing things. It’s a matter of custom. It could be different but not necessarily better. 

Ritual is often grounded in community. We seek out the company of like minded individuals. Sometimes it’s a church and other times it might be an online community. Ritual helps us share identities and affiliations. In this sharing we obtain validation and confirmation that we are not alone. These things are hugely important because we have always been social creatures. 

About Routine 

Now let’s look at some examples of routine. I get into the car, start it, check my surroundings and back up. Routine is often about safety concerns. I don’t back up before checking surroundings. That would be dangerous. Another example might be attaching the hitch in preparation for towing HaRVey. I have to remember to raise the stabilizers, jack the tongue, back the car into position, lower the tongue, do the doohickey to clamp the ball, raise the tongue, attach the tension bars, etc. Do all those things out of order and it might not work. Worse, something might get damaged or I might be injured. We develop or learn routines because there is a right way to do something. 

Driving or hitching a trailer or, when I was in the Coast Guard, operating a small boat on a rescue mission, routine is your friend. It’s your protector and safeguard. Good routine makes sure everyone performs in an understandable fashion. Routine allows you to operate safely in a dangerous situation. And routine does the heavy lifting allowing us to be in the moment, being attentive and aware. We all have heard, “Train how you fight, fight how you train.” Practice makes perfect, routine removes uncertainty. 

Here’s The Point

This all comes back to mindfulness. Ritual helps us feel comfortable in our surroundings. Routine helps us navigate confidently through our everyday tasks. Both remove unnecessary uncertainty and stress and give us the mental space to pay attention to the here and now. This capacity for attention and awareness enriches our life and provides a more satisfying experience. It also creates room to grow, to learn from new experience, and to be more deeply human. 

We don’t think about walking but we observe the sights around us as we do. That’s the usefulness of routine. We move our families and belongings along the roads and do it rather safely. That is also the usefulness of routine. We might dress like a particular group or engage in secret handshakes or eat certain kinds of food, all to promote ourselves an identity. That is the usefulness of ritual. All this works to help us to create a space where we know where we are and who we are so we can figure out where we want to go and who we want to become. Because in a small and simple life these are the things worth thinking about. 

On The Move

Agility and flexibility are facets of a small and simple life. As nomads, we move around, sometimes often, other times not. Karen works a job local to the Flagstaff area so that temporarily gives us a reason to stay in and around Flagstaff. Since the beginning of November, we have moved HaRVey more than six times, all still within driving distance of Karen’s job. I’m going to talk about the last few times and some of the reasons why. 

What Happened

Our story picks up off Cosnino Road, neat Walnut Canyon National Monument. This area is fairly well known and has quite a few campsites managed by the Forest Service. We like it because it’s near I 40, has good access and many of the sites are sunny which is good for solar. Since November, we have run without hooking up to shore power at all. 

When people think of Arizona, mostly they visualize dry and hot desert. Yes, much of Arizona is desert and much of it is hot most of the year.  We live in the part of Arizona that is not. Not desert and not hot. Flagstaff is home to the only ski resort in Arizona, Snow Bowl. Two different geological features contribute to this. We are on the southwest portion of the Colorado Plateau and Flagstaff is located at the base of San Francisco Mountain. One of its peaks is the highest point in Arizona. Flagstaff itself is between 6,600 and 7,000 feet in altitude. 

In the summertime, Phoenix can have daily temperatures over 100, often over 110. During this same period, Flagstaff might be in the 80’s. Low temperatures are correspondingly low. In the winter, they are often in the teens. It’s ok though. It’s a dry cold. Wait, no it’s not ok. 

The Problem

We have 120 watts of solar. For our size rig that should be adequate. We were using the battery that came with HaRVey, a standard marine deep cycle. The solar panels seemed to have no trouble charging it up in a few hours, although the rudimentary indicator doesn’t say how much power that is. It was enough that we weren’t having problems drawing it down too far, that is, until it got colder. Then the mighty little furnace started coming on. 

The mighty little furnace has a blower motor in it. Of all the things we have, blower motors take the most power. As the temperatures dropped, the furnace cycled on accordingly and drew down the battery to the point that we barely had any battery left in the morning. I thought maybe the outdoor battery was too cold to furnish enough power. I moved it inside. Still problematic. Because we had plenty of solar, we got a bigger battery to store more power. 

 Then a supplemental heater to reduce to reduce the amount of times the furnace would cycle. That produced its own problems. Too much moisture was in the air. It seemed like the only thing being produced in abundance was stress. A couple of cloudy days and we were using the car as a supplemental generator. 

What Can We Do?

The solutions broke into two distinct directions. One was a serious solar and battery upgrade, a couple of lithium batteries and solar panels to raise our available power out of the worry zone. That was certainly a desirable solution but out of our reach financially probably till late spring. 

Option two: do something about the weather. Remember what I said about Flagstaff being near the edge of the Colorado Plateau. About thirty-five miles to the south and west of Flagstaff is Sedona. Sedona is off the edge of the Plateau and around 3,000 feet lower in altitude. Because of this, Sedona trends warmer than Flagstaff around 15 degrees. We had boondocked in the area at Red Canyon Road before and found it quite good. The biggest difficulty with it was the windy climb up Oak Creek Canyon each day taking Karen to work and back. But we decided the change in temperature was worth the extra time traveling if only to relieve some of the stress and deal with the power management issues. 

One Problem Solved

 So at this point we are in Sedona. Gone were the lingering snow and the icy road conditions. Now we had bright and sunny vistas and daily highs in the 60’s. Yea! The Portable Buddy heater got packed up. There was less cycling of the furnace and the power issues were solved for the time being. 

This was BLM and managed by the Forest Service meaning it had a 14 day limit. Winter was still 2 more months of cold Flagstaff so on day 10 we started figuring out what to do about staying in the warm temperatures. We needed at least one more place in the sun that was still a reasonable drive to and from Flagstaff. Also, that drive up and down Oak Creek Canyon was taxing. 

While scouting some sites near I 17 we found more distributed camping in Rimrock with more scenic vistas and, importantly, a relatively easy drive to Flagstaff. We especially liked this little section that had 4 or 5 sites clustered together. However, since they were a mile from the highway, would they be available Thursday which was our next planned moving day? 

Small And Simple But Nimble And Decisive Too!

We wanted the site in the back of the cluster. It was available then. One thing we have learned is being flexible and agile. Sometimes that means seizing an opportunity when it presents itself. In 2 1/2 hours we had packed HaRVey and moved to our new location. Lots of sun, beautiful scenery and a better drive, who could ask for more?  

  

Ok, I will admit that a lot of places in Northern Arizona look like this. But I was exploring a little within a mile of here and I found some hidden gems. Looks like I’m going to get the chance to paint a few Plein Air paintings soon!

  

Being agile and flexible in a small and simple life occasionally means adapting on the fly but that doesn’t mean doing it thoughtlessly. Moving this winter in order to balance temperature, driving needs and accommodations has been and continues to be an ongoing process that continues in the background. We do a lot of “filing away for later” and “what if?” as we go along. In Taoism there is the idea that big problems are best handled by discovering them when they’re small. By being aware and continually contemplating various outcomes, most our problems can be solved in a small and simple fashion. 

Chaos Into Order

In a small and simple RV life, we pride ourselves on being resilient. Because we frequently change locations, our life can have an extra level of disorder and stress as compared to the sedentary lifestyle.  When we frequently hitch up our home and move from here to there over a variety of surfaces, we can sometimes dread that first opening of the door when we get to where we are going. Show of hands, how many people out there have found  stuff on the floor, that wasn’t supposed to be there? Yes, Karen and I have had plenty of that also. Fortunately, this is an area of stress that can be managed. But it will take some time and thought. 

Overall Observations

First let’s start with a few generalities. The heavier a thing is, the lower it should be stored on moving day. A corollary to that is the more expensive an item is the lower it should go, preferably protected. Both of those seem like a no brainers but, alas, learned through experience. Nothing stops the heart as much as finding out that expensive new printer had launched itself out of that top cupboard and thrown itself across the RV, bouncing off the dinette cushions and coming to rest on the edge about to fall to the floor. Heavy and expensive all in one little package. And it fit so well up there. 

HaRVey came with a few cupboards which were mostly open spaces. We spent a few months finding a selection of boxes, drawers and containers for storing everyday items. For instance, all the spices in one box and all the power cords in another. Dividing these open spaces up into manageable categories not only reduces clutter but gives everything a home. 

Bodies In Motion

Next, let’s talk a little about the physics of moving bodies, or more commonly, things sliding around on the floor. Newton’s First Law of Motion states a body at rest tends to stay at rest, a body in motion wants to continue on the same path. So this means things always want to go the opposite direction that you’re driving. The biggest mitigating factor here is friction. Most of the time things will only slide if there is enough force to overcome friction. 

Here’s a safe bet: somewhere along your route there will be enough force to overcome friction. We can plan for that. Chances are the least likely source of that force will be acceleration. Heaven help you if you’ve got that much horsepower. Brakes, on the other hand, are far more powerful in affecting your change in speed. And, in an emergency, nobody is going to back off the brakes so nothing spills. Therefore, pack items on the floor up against the front. They will generally stay put. 

Let’s Get Down To Specifics

I think to finish this out I’m going to show you three specific ways we secure things that would likely spill on their own. The way that I try to develop solutions is they must be simple, easy and not intrusive. I don’t want big ugly fixes or complicated machinations. We’re supposed to be reducing stress here. 

 No. 1 is the cupboard under the sink. This one was easy because there are two opposing doors with handles. Inside this cupboard there are drawers that tended to dump the son the floor on left turns. Mostly canned goods so more things to roll around on the floor. A baby latch does the job here. Since we’ve been using it we have had no problems. 

No. 2. No. 2 is one of those swing up cabinet doors. This one is over the sink and, curiously, is the only one of the three that has a history of ejecting items on a regular basis. (Think printer) karen said it can’t be an ugly fix. Fortunately Home Depot took the hasp back. After due thought, I developed something tiny and mighty. I bought some 1/8th inch steel rod from the hardware store and cut off a few inches. Then I bent it in the middle. I drilled a hole into the side edge of the door. Next I got a tiny (the tiny part) screw eye and screwed it in next to the hole. Whenever this pin is inserted,  the door can go nowhere. Problem solved!

     

What About Add Ons?

No. 3 was interesting because it kind of evolved in a few stages. HaRVey didn’t come equipped with any drawers. I know, why did we buy it that way? This was a problem pretty easily solved. We had this five drawer thing from IKEA that exactly fit next to the sink stand. Actually we had four in our previous abode. The other three got distributed to various people that needed them. But I digress. Left turns. Everything seems to happen on left turns. On a left turn this thing opens like a mad filing cabinet and discharges everything it can. Flatware goes flying! Utensils find all kinds of strange places to hide. 

Solution Evolution

Our first solution was to tape the drawers shut. That worked ok as a temporary fix but it’s ugly  and requires more tape each time. Then there’s dealing with the sticky left behind that builds up after time. The whole process was messy. Messy is the enemy of small and simple. This solution needed refinement. 

 

All I needed was something to hold the drawers in place. One of the problems with the tape was sometimes the bottom drawer would come unstuck and drag the rest of the drawers with it as it attempted to throw off its bonds. I would need to have a secure point of anchor at the bottom to stop all that nonsense. 

Funny thing. No, two funny things. They sell steel rod in three foot sections and screw eyes in packs of three. I didn’t need to invent the wheel again and I had materials. I took a tinsy winsy screw eye and attached it to the cabinet on the top edge out of the way for daily use. Then I drilled a small hole in the floor straight down from the eye. Next I took the excess rod and dropped it into the screw eye and the hole. I bent it 180 degrees to help secure it in place and give me a handy handle. Maybe I should paint it white. Anyway, this works great and it’s a simple solution. 

Mischief Managed (*With apologies to J. K. Rollings)

It’s not possible to remove all the unexpected problems from traveling but making sure that things stay where they’re supposed to is one area we can control. By demonstrating some of the solutions we have worked out for some of our issues I hope I’ve shown that with a little thought, practical and elegant answers can help relieve some of the chaos in an RV lifestyle. 

Are You Grounded?

One of the challenges we face living a small and simple RV life is how to feel grounded as a nomad. Being grounded, a sense of being well balanced and secure, is an attribute important to any person. But where does this sense of grounding originate?

Point of Origin

Most people experience being grounded as being rooted to a specific place. We have words for these types of groundings like hometown, home state, home country. It has become part of our language. “I’m from the Southwest.” “I call New Orleans home.” “I’m a New Yorker!” We also find this codified into law. We have passports, drivers licensees, state of residence. But mostly these serve the needs of government so they can allocate resources or establish representation. 

But how does one stay grounded when one is wandering? If we have, because of circumstance or decision, slipped our moorings to a geographic attachment, what keeps us balanced and secure? Is there something else we can hitch our wagon to?

I can Take It With Me

 Nomads spend an incredible amount of time and energy taking the blank slate of their home on wheels and personalizing it to create a safe haven, “nest building”. Pictures, different furniture, paint, artwork, drapes and plants, we find numerous and creative ways to make our spaces unique. After all, wherever we wander, the inside remains the same and gives us some continuity as we travel.

Is That Really Different?

Yet that’s not really that different from what we do with our living spaces that don’t have wheels. When I was young my father customized every house we lived in. Coming from the background of an electrical engineer, many of the changes centered on new wiring, lights and switches. Every house we lived in had twice as many electrical things when we moved as it did before. The attic in one house was too cramped for him so I got to squirm in between the trusses to make the new wire runs. Me being an artist I tended to paint walls with bright and luscious colors. We do what resonates with us. 

What Are We Really Looking For?

In the end, we are social creatures so our sense of being grounded may flow from relationships, from a sense of community, from bonding with “kindred spirits”. Many of us travel as couples. There seems to be an increasing number of families taking to the road. Homeschooling has spawned a new category, roadschooling. Even when we travel singly more often then not there’s a dog or cat involved. Often nomads talk about how awesome it is to be out in the middle of nowhere without anyone else in sight but I do notice that often they have a spouse or other loved ones sharing the experience. 

The fact that I’m hearing about it at all is a remarkable thing. In the internet age news travels fast and nomads are in the thick of it reaching out to share the latest view from their window, asking for directions or instructions for dealing with a recalcitrant water pump. 

In fact, hardly anyone is out there by themselves. We have bashes, fests, meetups and get-togethers. There are forums and websites dedicated to trading information about everything you can think of. But it’s all people interacting, searching for community, being connected. 

We’re All In This Together

We didn’t invent nomadic existence. It’s as old as humans. And as John Donne says, “No man is an island.” We share, we care, we seek out others to be with. Ironically, it’s never really been about where. The more important aspect about grounding, the one that gives us meaning is who. Who we are with, who we care about, who our friends are, who we share our life with. 

 

Roast Chicken! No Oven? No Problem!

One of the challenges we face living a small and simple RV life is we have no oven. And yet we are committed to preparing nutritious and economical meals. How do we do this? Not everything can be prepared in a saucepan or skillet. Some things can go on a grill, however, that will be the subject of a future blog post. Today I want to talk about another category of cooking, the type of cooking one would normally do in an oven if one had an oven. We don’t. 

One of things I often prepared when we lived in a house was roast chicken. I find the rotisserie chicken from the supermarket to be mushy and over cooked so I would rather do it myself. When you little butter and some poultry seasoning, pop that baby in a hot oven for an hour or so, you have a juicy and tasty little treat that can give a couple as many as 4 meals, at least the way I do it. First meal, breast and thigh. Second, the other breast for chicken salad for lunch. Numbers three and four will be a delicious and tasty chicken soup. 

Okay, Great! Let’s Have Roast Chicken! 

Oh wait, HaRVey doesn’t have an oven. Bummer. It seems like there are a few solutions to this. I know Coleman and Camp Chef have oven attachments that fit their gas stoves but let’s go a little simpler and more versatile here. For items for which I would have previously used an oven I now use a Dutch oven. I like and use cast iron Dutch ovens for the same reasons I like it for frying pans. It’s tough, it retains heat and cooks evenly, and the finish is nonstick and easy to maintain and repair. Because cast iron is nearly indestructible and will last forever with a minimum of care it is my go to material of choice.

In fact, I have two Dutch ovens. 

Why Would I Have Two?

We’ve all heard the saying that one size doesn’t fit all. Similarly, the same goes for cookware. I would use a frying pan for bacon and a sauce pan for soup. Even though the distinctions are smaller for Dutch ovens, there are some differences. 

Here are two Dutch ovens.

Dutch oven 1

They look different. The one on the left is shallower, has legs and a top with a rim. The one on the right is deeper, and has a lid that is domed without a rim. Also, it has no legs. These different ovens have different functions. 

The primary purpose of the oven on the left is baking as in biscuits and bread. In use it sits in a bed of hot coals and more coals are placed on the lid. This is the reason for the legs and the rim around the top. In this way the heat gets applied from both top and bottom which allows even baking. Without the lid this oven can be used for sauté or frying. The large handle bale gives it a way to be picked up and moved around safely when there are hot coals on the lid. 

The oven on the right is more often used for stews, chili and soups, things that require boiling or simmering and are heated from the bottom. It’s more likely to sit on a grill or stove while in use. Hence the smooth bottom. You wouldn’t normally pile a bunch of hot coals on the lid and they aren’t likely to stay there either. Another difference is evident when we examine the interior of the lids. 

Lids

Notice one is smooth and concave and the other has little pointy things. The lid on the left is associated with the baking oven and it tends to be a relatively dry heat environment. But why concave? One of the nice things about designs that have had time to mature over hundreds of years are elements of multitasking. The lid used upside down functions well as a small griddle. 

It seems to me you could do a fair range of things just with one of these, some better than others. 

The lid on the right is markedly different. Since the primary purpose of this Dutch oven is stews, soups and the like, these types of things generate lots of steam as they cook. The steam contacts the lid which is not heated, condenses and flows down one of the little pointy things, dripping back onto whatever is cooking. The lid on my cast iron frying pan is the same way. Good for low heat recipes. 

When Two Can Equal Four

When I was buying the second Dutch oven (which, ironically is the first one pictured) I had the choice of buying the same size or bigger. This wasn’t a hard choice to figure out. Using the same diameter makes the lids interchangeable. Voila! I have essentially four useful configurations. Worth the extra weight in iron. The main thing I was after was an increase of volume combined with the rimmed lid because the size and shape would be good for roasting. I couldn’t fit a whole chicken in the shallow one. (Bonus hint: meat loaf fits!) Because the deep oven doesn’t have legs, I use a stand to elevate it enough to sit over hot coals. 

Enough! Stop Talking About The Ovens! Get To The Chicken!

Start a fire ahead of time for a supply of hot embers. Actually I find it easier to use charcoal. Both work. How much charcoal? About a chimney’s worth seems to work fine for me. Get that going first because it gives you time to do the next steps. I tuck a couple of paper towels with some olive oil under the chimney. (This hint came from Alton Brown! Thanks, Alton!) That’s good to start the coals without buying anything special or using lighter fluid. Now is a good time to go and prepare the chicken.

Spicing That Chicken

Chicken. I look for a whole chicken that weighs about 4 to 4 1/2 lbs. also, get some fresh thyme or rosemary. Either is good. Unwrap the chicken, take out the giblets and clean it. Pat it dry with some paper towels. Since the next step is doing some initial browning you will need to apply some kind of fat to the outside. I generally use olive oil. I suppose butter works too. Brush plenty on there.

This is the time to add spices. Salt, pepper and poultry seasoning are good spices to start with. I occasionally add other things depending on my mood. Curry powder or some barbecue spice mix might end up making an appearance.

Check the charcoal.  Not ready yet? No problem. Get out the Coleman stove or equivalent. Don’t forget to stuff some fresh herbs into the cavity. Take the deep Dutch oven (the one with no legs. This is why.) set it on the burner and preheat it. Add some oil to it. I find it helps me see when it’s hot. When it is, set that chicken in and rotate it every few minutes till it has some browning all over it. It not only makes it look nice, it’s important for developing flavor later. 

Now For The Roasting!

After that part is done, check the coals. They should be close to ready by now. Choose a spot for the cooking. Inside the fire ring works, a patch of ground next to it is good also. I use a little table made for use with Dutch ovens. I’m hard core like that. Just make sure you’re not going to catch anything on fire. Set up the little stand. Like this:

And tuck some of the coals underneath, the rest on top. Say about two thirds on top. Heating from underneath is easier is why the majority of the coals go on top. 

Sit Back And Wait

When I cook a chicken it generally takes just over an hour. One round of coals usually lasts long enough. If you’re dipping embers out of a fire they will have to be replenished ever so often. About every 15 to 20 minutes it would be good to rotate the oven and the lid separately a quarter of a turn to promote even heating. I’m sure someone will ask how hot is it? Hot enough. How many briquettes? There are charts available on the internet that say things like: use 24 briquettes for 350 degrees, 9 on the bottom, 15 on the lid evenly spaced. I tried that in the beginning. It works. After a while you look at the amount you have and say “yeah, that looks about right.”  Repetition and following a general plan helps you develop the intuitive. 

Part Way Through, it should look something similar to this:

Is It Done Yet?

Here’s a surprise. I do use a meat thermometer because I would rather get it done right. After all, if it’s not, I can’t go stick it in the microwave. We have one but we use it for storage in between shore power hookups. That doesn’t look like it will be changing in the near future. 

I’m hoping that after all that, it looks something like this:

I would say more, but this post is already much longer than I anticipated. Enjoy your chicken. I’m hoping next time to talk about something other than food. Sheesh, I’m in danger of turning into the Food Network. 

 

So How Do We Cook?

Part of living a simple life is eating well. I don’t mean eating a lot or eating what is convenient. It is about having enough and it being nutritious and satisfying. It’s been 190 days since we left our apartment and began living in HaRVey full time. The first six weeks of that we crossed the country twice, made some serious repairs and shuffled around some revisions in what we took with us on the road. But we seem to have found what works for us. 

Cooking Gear

When the weather is good, I prefer to cook outside. there are plenty of options. I can use a propane stove. I have a folding charcoal grill. No instapot because no house current. Had one in the apartment but it didn’t come with us once we left the hookups behind. No oven. That one I’m figuring out as I go along by learning how to use a Dutch oven. In fact, we have two. Although they are the same size their shapes are slightly different and their particular functions are also. Frying pans. I have several different sizes. I prefer cast iron or carbon steel because the seasoning is easy to maintain and repair if necessary. And you can’t really brown things adequately with anything else. Also, a set of nesting stainless steel pots for soups and side dishes. Everything can be used on a stove or open fire. 

Food

But we are talking about food at the moment. We try to avoid frozen meals or processed foods as much as possible. We buy fresh produce, fresh dairy and inexpensive cuts of meat. I’ve cooked all my life and learned some great techniques so I’m not afraid to experiment. It’s amazing what you can do with a few peppers, some onion and a chicken beast. I do have a fair variety of spices. That’s kind of important. Right now the majority of our meals are home cooked. Ok, RV cooked. 

Fajita spices

Chicken Fajitas 

I think I’m going to finish this entry with the recipe I use for chicken Fajitas which is ironic because, being an artist, I seldom follow or use recipes except for baking and I don’t bake much right now. I think I’m better served by learning techniques that can be applied to various ingredients. It serves me well. 

This recipe requires an onion, a bell pepper and a chicken breast. It also requires a spice blend I initially stole- I mean read in the New York Times and modify according to my mood. I never make anything the same way twice. 

Spice blend:

Equal parts of cumin, granulated garlic and kosher salt. Add to this some chili powder, paprika, a little cinnamon and black pepper. After mixing, set aside and divide in half. 

Chop the onion and bell pepper into slices. Cut up the chicken beast into bite size slices. Add half the spice mix to each along with a little olive oil. Set aside. 

Heat a cast iron pan with a little oil till it’s smoking hot. Add the chicken and spice mix and cook till nicely browned. Set aside. 

Add a tablespoon of oil to the pan and reheat. Add the pepper and onion mix to the pan after it’s hot. Stir the vegetables every once in a while over about ten minutes or till they are browned well.  Set aside. 

Did I mention there were tortillas involved?  Ok, get out some tortillas, fill using the cooked chicken and vegetables and whatever else you want and enjoy!

It Either Starts or continues…

HaRVey and Trailhawk, all new and ready to go!

Small and simple doesn’t just happen. It’s an evolution. It’s been 4 1/2 years since Karen and I sold our “sticks and bricks” house. Before that we had been talking tiny house for a few years. Four bedrooms was pretty senseless for 2 people. We only lived in a third of it. I got tired of fixing things I didn’t really have much use for.

We progressed from there to a studio apartment in Queens. Okay, that’s smaller but we still had things in storage. But what did we really need?  All that? Loved NYC but seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time changed lots of things. Moving to New York took a big rental truck. Going across country, we couldn’t take all that with us. Bought a car and a 6 x 12 cargo trailer. If it wouldn’t fit, it stayed. Late spring almost 2 years ago we landed in Flagstaff and found an apartment. 

Transitions in several ways

Moving yourself across the country will really make you think about what’s important, what you really want to keep. So with the apartment I have to confess we did some backsliding. Table, couch, bed frame, okay well, in an apartment you need that. Liked the hiking, the beautiful landscapes, the moderate climate. Less expensive then the previous iterations, that’s something I liked. No yard work, loved that a lot. Being a retired artist, I had taught myself a new medium, watercolor. Also being a retired artist, acquiring lots of art stuff is too easy. I would learn something about that in the near future. 

Then the apartment complex changed hands. The new owners started using words like “luxury”and “stainless steel” and “upgrade”. Honestly, the only thing that increased was the rent. Time for another change.

Adaption

Our discussions about tiny houses became more intense and important. We considered converting our cargo trailer into a living space. A plan was coming together. And another round of downsizing loomed. Same question as before: what do we really need in order to get by? Hello Craig’s List!

I kid you not, one week into the trailer conversion, I was starting to do the layout for the trailer floor plan when I happened by Camping World and saw a deeply discounted travel trailer left over from the year before. For about the same amount of expense we could have an actual living space and leapfrog several months of work. Also, something I could stand up in. Still we’re talking only 16 feet of living space. 

And so begins our Small and Simple RV Life!