Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Spice Storage - More Stuff In Less Space

My Main Storage Area
    I like to cook. Yes, I know everyone who reads these articles knows that already, but I do! The more complex the dish, the more likely it is you will require a bevy of spices and herbs. Not that you NEED to have all that, but I like to have a variety. The problem is, as usual, space. My RV is small. Storage is always at a premium. So when I find something that increases the quantity of stuff without using up additional space I am very happy. Using existing wasted space is a "slam-dunk!" When you can't simply add more, become more efficient.

I used to have to spread my spice containers out in various storage drawers in my wardrobe closet turned pantry. Remembering where each one was and opening and closing all the drawers every time I cooked was getting to be a real hassle. While shopping in a liquidator-type place I came upon the "Swivel-Store." Kind of a bad name. Not very "catchy" at all.

I believe this was an "As seen on TV" product. There may have even been an infomercial ad campaign. Now it's relegated to liquidation and bargain shops.

The idea is simple. The shelves sit side by side, the narrow way. And when you need something from them, they slide out and rotate 90 degrees to give you access to the shelves. You can only have one shelf unit out at a time. It's a good idea. Of course the unit was too tall to fit in any of my cabinets, but i had a bit of unused space on the top of the smaller plastic drawer column in the pantry.

Build quality is OK. Not as strong as I'd like, and the slide/swivel mechanism is very tight to begin with. A touch of lubrication (I used some lithium grease) and moving the mechanism through its paces a few times loosened it up nicely. I would recommend adding some weight to the base, or using some double sided tape to secure the base to whatever surface you are putting it on. Once fully loaded, it may become quite heavy. I haven't DRIVEN with this contraption yet, but it appears that it will stay secure and retain all the spice containers nicely. Will it rattle? I'll let you know.

Once installed in my pantry I noticed I couldn't fully swivel the shelve 90 degrees. It hits the side of the closet opening and a bit of the light fixture that's mounted on the wall of the closet. Not really a big problem as I can still access everything there.

Probably should have checked BEFORE I taped it down... ah well, live and learn.

Now that I have some additional storage for spices, herbs and the like, I'll have to go out and buy some more. Hmmm.... What to get? I already have the staples; salt, pepper, garlic, parsley, oregano, basil, white pepper, cilantro, paprika, ginger and chili powder. Probably add some chopped onion, thyme, rosemary, sage, dill, chinese five-spice, coriander, cloves, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, wasabi powder, mustard seed, nutmeg and tarragon. Probably forgetting quite a few, but that should fill up my spice rack nicely! Make sure you buy containers that will fit in the rack. I found that some of my larger jars wouldn't.

Be Seeing You... Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Thursday, July 25, 2013

RV Gourmet Meals - Not That Hard

    One of the main features I looked for before I bought my RV was a full kitchen/galley. I wanted a four burner stovetop and a convection microwave that could double as a regular oven. Of course, plenty of counter space was important, but I could accept a bit less than I have at my sticks and bricks home kitchen. Why was this so important, you may ask? Well, I love to cook. I love to EAT too, but that's an whole 'nother issue! A well equipped kitchen makes cooking easier. Believe me, you don't have to be at "home" to make tasty, gourmet-style meals on the go. This week let's take a look at one of my favorites....PASTA!

Pasta is a versatile food. It comes in lots of shapes and sizes and can be boiled, baked, even microwaved! Traditionally, spaghetti and meatballs is a tried and true favorite. Let's look in another direction. Let's start with a 1 lb (16 oz.) box of your favorite small to medium pasta shape. I like medium Rigatoni for this one. You'll also need some chicken breast (cooked or raw), a bag of frozen peas (small), some sliced mushrooms, some diced sweet red (or other color!) peppers, some red (Bermuda) onion, fresh or freeze dried garlic and a little bit of olive oil. Later on we'll talk about spices and quick, non-red sauces. Boil about 4 quarts of water (5 is better, if you're making a whole box of pasta) with about a tablespoon of salt added. While that's on the burner, slice the chicken into strips then cut the strips into 3 inch pieces.

Good Sized Non-Stick Skillet
OF COURSE, if you are using raw chicken, now would be a good time to cook it! Once that's ready cut up the pepper(s) into small strips about 2 long by 1/2 inch wide and set aside. Heat up a medium or large skillet on another burner set to medium high heat  and add about a tablespoon and a half of the olive oil. Let the oil heat thoroughly. At this point I usually add some fresh or freeze dry sliced garlic. If that's not your thing, leave it out! When the garlic begins to "crackle" add the onions (if you want them) and then the chicken. Cook until the chicken is almost cooked through (about 10 minutes) and then add the cut red peppers. Turn down the heat and sprinkle on spices to taste. You can use salt, black pepper, and parsley. (A little bit of white cooking wine goes well here too) If you want more of a Pesto, add more parsley and oregano. If you're not using fresh spices, I like to reconstitute them with a bit of water first (only for the "sort of" pesto)

Do not get locked into to this as a recipe. I find some of my favorite meals on the road are from experimentation. You could add cilantro and some salsa for a GREAT Mexican version. The sky's the limit here. If it tastes good, you've done it right!  At this point the water should be at a full boil. Dump in the pasta slowly and give it a stir. Let it come back to a boil as you gently stir your chicken mixture. Get a serving
Freeze Dried garlic
bowl, or just use the pot after it's drained, like I do!

Put a colander in the sink (or outside if your going to dump the water outside and that's OK where you are). Fill the colander with the frozen peas from the bag. Once the pasta has reached your desired doneness level. (Check this by tasting it! But let it cool off first. I know it hurts when you don't) Shut off the burner and dump the boiling water and pasta over the peas in the colander. Presto! They're cooked to perfection. Give the colander a shake and put some butter/margarine in the bottom of the still hot pasta pot. I usually use about 3 tablespoons for a full pound of pasta.

Dump the Peas and pasta from the colander over the butter/margarine and stir until melted and coated.  Turn off the burner under the chicken mixture. Dump that over the pasta and stir to combine all the ingredients. You could also serve the pasta onto a plate and place the chicken mixture on top. Better presentation that way. But I'm looking to EAT not LOOK! Add some grated Parmesan cheese over the mix and eat!

You can feel free to substitute almost anything here. Sausage, cut up or crumbled for the chicken. Almost any vegetables for the peppers and mushrooms. Most frozen vegetables will defrost and cook through with the boiling water trick.

As you can see, it's easy to make a variety of meals from this basic technique. This same theory can apply to breakfast...I covered that in another article. It's not difficult, no fancy culinary skills needed. But, believe me, it sure tastes good!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Off Roading in an RV? Really? What If You Get Stuck?

    I'm a boondocker. There, I've said it. I REALLY prefer unimproved campsites to organized campgrounds. Maybe it's because I lived in NYC among the masses for so long. Maybe I like the serenity of being in the middle of nowhere. In any case, some of the greatest places to park/camp aren't always along the beaten (or semi-beaten) path. Can you really go there in an RV or while hauling a trailer? You can go to more places than you'd expect!

One Type of Off Road 4x4 RV
With very few exceptions, motorized RVs aren't 4 wheel drive nor capable of true off roading. It's pretty easy to get stuck when driving a 30+ foot 15,000lb+ behemoth.That being said, most RVs do perfectly well on unimproved, unpaved roads. Many state parks, BLM lands and the like have dirt or packed sand access to some of the most beautiful places you can imagine. Sometimes you have to traverse a grassy field to get to the perfect lakeside campsite. As long as you take some basic precautions against getting mired in "who-knows-what" you should be fine. I am NOT recommending getting in above your skill level or in a place you couldn't easily extricate yourself! Leave that to the hardy folks that like 4 wheel drive and harsh trails for fun.

Typical Rubber Mat - Comes On A Roll
I always have good tires, some pieces of wood, long rubber carpet runners and a couple of jacks, just in case. The enemy here is soft or muddy ground. Anything that your tires will sink into or dig a deep rut in. Spinning tires is NOT the way to get unstuck if something goes wrong. Stop. Look the situation over. Is it one or more tires that aren't getting traction, front or back? If you haven't dug in too deep, a rubber mat or a section of 2x4 (or x6) inserted under the stuck tire will get you the traction you need to get  back out. MAKE SURE YOU INSERT IT THE RIGHT WAY! If you are backing out it goes behind the wheel, going forward it goes in front of the tire(s.) Set it all up then get back in and SLOWLY drive (in the correct direction) until you are on firm ground.

Be Careful! If In Doubt, DON'T TRY IT!

Before you venture onto unknown terrain, if it looks soft or doubtful, you can always get out and look/feel the surface. When in doubt DO NOT PROCEED. Better safe than stuck. The only time this is bad? When you are moving over a sandy or soft surface and you stop. Stopping in the soft stuff is a great way to get stuck. Keep moving at a walking pace until you are on solid/hard packed ground or pavement.

Bad Mojo!

You should also look out for stuff sticking out of the road or deep ruts and potholes. The ground clearance on a typical RV, with all the pipes, wires, bits and pieces hanging down isn't usually very much. Be careful you don't catch something or bottom out the RV! If you follow these simple rules, you should be fine. Even a little bit of off-pavement excursion will get you to A LOT more places!

If you're observant, plan ahead and are comfortable with the extrication process (and have the right tools!!) by all means try this out. At first go places that are relatively solid. Get comfortable with the handling, ground clearance and performance of YOUR rig. If you have any doubts Stick to the paved roads! I won't be able to come and get you out! Doing this stuff is at your own risk! I like doing it, have gotten stuck a few times and managed to get out easily. This is not always the case! Remember, not only do you have to get IN, but OUT too!

Caution is rewarded with a smooth trip to that once in a lifetime campsite. I've got a favorite by a lake in the Adirondacks. Absolutely beautiful. Quiet, amazing sunrises over the lake and a postcard view framed by every window.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

An RV Oasis in the Oppressive Heat.

Small, But Comfortable and Cozy
    A while back I wrote an article about super storm Sandy. My house had no power, no heat and no way to cook meals. RV to the rescue! It really showed the RV as a safe, comfortable and yes, cozy place to be in a major storm. Here in the Northeast (and in many areas around the country) we have been experiencing an extended heat wave. Could be global warming?!? Anyway, as usual for me, Murphy decided to kill my central air conditioner just a day before the heat began. For the last few weeks I have been uncomfortably hot and relatively sleepless. It was only a couple of days ago that it finally dawned on me, I have an oasis of cool air and comfort sitting in the driveway!

I've read some folks likening an RV to a road going lifeboat for your house. In fact you could take that a step further and compare full-timers to "round-the-world" sailors in small craft. Either way, it just reinforces how nice it is to be able to have all the comforts, conveniences and safety of a traditional home almost any time and anyplace you'd like them.

What could be better? In a serious emergency (conditions permitting) you could leave the area and wait it out in a safer spot. All in familiar surroundings. RV's are great!

For the rest of this obnoxious heat wave, I will be spending the nights (and some hours during the day) in the cool, air conditioned space of my RV. I have the fridge filled with cool drinks and snacks, the TV/Entertainment system full of digital shows and movies and a cool place to sleep. I'm all set to wait this one out. Since I am so close to the house, I even get a decent WiFi signal here, so I am also online. In fact, I'm writing this with a nice breeze of A/C cooled air wafting around me and a glass of iced tea sparkling in front of me on the table. I almost hate to admit this, but I may have to turn the A/C down as it's getting a bit chilly in here.

Of course, I enjoy travelling to other places in my RV, but sometimes it's just as nice to have one at home! Yet another use for the RV. Of course, making sure your Air conditioner (and generator if you're not hooked up to shore power) is up to the task is another thing entirely. Look here for basic maintenance tips! Gets me thinking about having it ready to go during the long cold winter when my house furnace invariably fails.... OK, first things first!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

It's HOT! Keep your A/C and generator humming

Back of My Aero Cruiser
It has been REALLY hot and muggy for the last few weeks. Thankfully, I believe all my motorhome's small leaks I had are fixed

Most RVs, including mine, have a rooftop mounted air conditioner. These can be a life-saver on days like these. It's a good idea to make sure everything is in working order before you need it. If you're not parked where there are electrical hookups, checking your generator as well could be critical. No power, no cooling!

Typical A/C Mounted Controls
First, while connected to shore power (Your house, a campground pedestal, etc.) turn on your A/C. Remember, most RV air conditioning units will take a few minutes (or more) to start cooling the air. The fan will turn on, then after a while, you'll here the compressor (the mechanical device that actually is mainly responsible for creating the cool air) kick in. You should feel a difference in the output airflow. Wait a few minutes to make sure it's cooling sufficiently. If you want to get technical, most manufacturers will have a manual that shows what the decrease in temperature should be from the surrounding air. I'm happy with a minimum of 15-20 degrees cooler.

Typical Generator Mounted Control Panel
After you've run the A/C  for a while. (I try not to let it run less than 15 minutes) shut it off. Wait a few seconds and fire up your generator. If you're on shore power, it's a good idea to disconnect. You wouldn't know there is a transfer switch problem and you aren't actually running on generator power. It would be an very unpleasant surprise to get to your campsite and find out you have no power, even though your generator was running! Let the generator warm up for a few minutes and stabilize. Turn on your A/C. Remember, you have to wait a few minutes for the compressor to kick in.

Inside Generator Panel
 While running on the generator, you'll likely hear the generator slow down a bit when the A/C kicks on. Never fear, that's normal. It should stabilize and you should begin to feel cool air shortly. Let it run for a half hour or so to make sure everything stays stable and nothing odd happens. You may hear a difference when the compressor turns on and off, but that is also quite normal. Make sure the A/C unit itself sounds OK. If it's making clicking sounds or vibrating badly, shut it off! Also, use your nose. If you smell something burning or a horrible odor, you may have electrical problems or a critter inside the A/C unit itself.
Removable Filters On Either Side

When I do this, I am not only looking for strange sounds from the A/C but from the generator as well. You could hear the generator begin to "hunt" going up and down in speed and never settling down. I had this happen and it was a simple cleaning to fix it.

Next, look at all your A/C vents. Both on the unit(s) itself and any remote ones you may have. I like to clean these out with a damp towel to make sure I'm not breathing in anything nasty. Also, if your A/C is equipped with removable filters, remove them! Check, clean and replace.

Treat your air conditioner and generator right and you'll be one happy camper! The A/C is one of the few things that aren't easy or practical to run on Solar Power, so having a working generator is a must. Who knows, someday we'll be able to store enough power in a small space to run our air conditioners all night. Until then....keep yours working fine!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"