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!