Be sure to sign up for the weekly RV Travel Newsletter, published continuously every Saturday since 2001. Click here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

To Wax Or Not To Wax, THAT Is The Question - Better Looking RVs With Floor Finish!

Clean And Pretty!
    A LONG while back I had cleaned and then applied an acrylic floor finish to my RV. Red Max Pro was the brand; it's no longer available but a very similar product called Zep Wet-Look Floor Finish is. The results were spectacular to say the least. A couple of years ago I renewed the application (2 easy coats, no buffing) and was pleased with the results, for the most part. Seems that I didn't get the RV clean enough before re-application and I had sealed some dirt and faded black streaks under the new acrylic coating. Since this stuff is so durable, getting it looking good again was going to be an issue. With a regular wash and wax you have to do it many more times, but there would not have been an issue with crud under the coating.

Pretty Awful, Right?
What to do? I could strip the entire coating off, all the way back to the base gel coat layer and reapply from scratch. That seemed to me to be a lot of extra work. There must be a way to "spot" treat the application and get good results. Even if they are "good enough" I would be pleased. I began by isolating a 2ft by 2ft square on the sidewall that looked pretty bad. No amount of polishing by hand or power buffer was making any difference, so I decided to try some light scratch compound. This definitely worked, but was pretty harsh and required a steady hand and the right amount of pressure to work properly. I had read about using the same brand floor stripper to remove the acrylic coating, but was concerned over the use of even more chemicals on my gel coat finish (not to mention my hands!)

Close Up, Ready For New Acrylic.
Ultimately, I used a combination of Magic Eraser for REALLY bad spots and simple light buffing with "Barkeeper's Friend" (a not-too-harsh abrasive powder.) Once the bad stuff was gone, a new coating of acrylic was applied the same way I did the first time. The new coating allegedly will blend with the existing coating where it was still in good shape. After all this is finally done, I will likely go over the coating with a single (or maybe a double) light coat to make sure everything is sealed for the season. Looks like the deep shine WILL come back easily enough. I was a bit worried I would have to strip and re-do the entire RV! No fun at all.

If I would have properly re-applied last year, this problem would have never surfaced. It's all my fault. I was in a rush. That never works. Trust me! All in all, after almost 4 years (in 4 season weather) it still looks GREAT! If I had to wax my RV, no matter that it's pretty small, it would be lots of work and have to be done MANY times in a season, especially on the nose. This type of coating isn't for everyone. Since it's a floor finish, you can never get it glass smooth. Obviously, right? Who wants a really slick and slippery floor unless you're skating!?!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Like Coffee? How About Cappuccino? Here's A Great Way To Make It Without Electricity!

Still Not Warm Enough
    Sometimes the old ways are still good ways of doing things. I'll freely admit I am a great fan of technology. For example, the methods and styles of brewing coffee are varied and run the gamut from simple to outrageously complex. Over the years electricity has become the king of brewing. If you like Espresso drinks (like Cappuccino) you have lots of new-fangled ways of getting a good cup without ever lighting your stove. This is fine and dandy if you live in a sticks and bricks house and have an, essentially, unlimited supply. In an RV...not so much. When boondocking almost not at all! So, how can you still get a great cup?

Nice At Only $7.50!
MANY years ago, before home electric espresso makers, there was the "Moka" Pot. This ingenious device made what is about as close to "real" espresso as you can get, on the stove. The main difference between it and a professional maker is the pressure it develops. Pro espresso makers top out at about 130 PSI while this pot can generate only around 20 PSI. That being said, the addition of hotter water and steam in the brew cycle can give a very close approximation of espresso including the all too important "crema." That's the  frothy foam that develops from the ground coffee beans and the brew cycle. It's NOT the milk froth you add later...if you want to.

So, How's it work? Easy. Simply unscrew the top and bottom portions of the pot. Remove the metal coffee basket, then add water to the lowermost half, up to the valve (there MAY be a fill line inside as well) then put the basket back in and fill it with coarse ground coffee. Do NOT tamp it down! Make sure there are no grains on the threads or mating surfaces and screw them back together. Be careful, you may have a gasket seal to watch. Put the now-ready-to-go pot on the stove. Try and pick a burner and flame size that roughly equals the size of the bottom of your pot. They come in many sizes, from a tiny single cup all the way up to a 12 cup version.

Yes, I Know It's Sideways!

Once it's on the burner, wait until the water begins to boil. At that point the water will travel up the center, through the grounds and coffee will begin to appear. Once the top reservoir is filled with coffee the pot will begin to make a much louder "gurgling" sound. This is the time to shut it off and remove from the heat. If you let it go much longer, you will end up with nasty and burnt tasting coffee. So, is it espresso? Yes and No. It definitely falls within the definition, but the type, grind and time will vary the flavor greatly. The good news is the experiments usually taste pretty good!

The Manual Frother!
So this gets you the basic ingredient of most coffee drinks. To make the arguably most famous, Cappuccino, you are going to need some heated and some frothed milk. The heated one is easy...just a small saucepan on the stove with a very low flame works great. Frothing at home with a steam-based frother is great, but won't work without power in the RV, defeating the purpose of the Moka pot! I use a press style milk frother This is very similar to the Coffee french press style pot. In fact you can use one in a pinch. Pour cold milk in, push/pull the plunger for a while and voila! you have milk froth. It will almost double in volume. Then, if you like, you can heat it up and pour it/spoon it over you espresso after you've added the warmed milk. Add some cinnamon if desired and drink. There are other ways, but this is the most "authentic."

All in all, it sounds way more complex than it is. Also, it makes for a nice ritual for a lazy afternoon. I wouldn't recommend it for early mornings...well, unless you are a *gasp* "morning person."

Be Seeing You... Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

2017 REVISED (w/Links!) - How to Go From Winter's Slumber to Spring's Re-Awakening And Perform A Yearly Safety Check.

Usually, I wait until I can de-winterize my RV but the weather has had other ideas.. Think of this article as more of a "wishful thinking" piece for me and a really useful list for you!

Look Ma...No Snow!

    Time to wake the slumbering beast (well my RV is more like a tame housecat than a beast.) I am going to de-winterize, inspect and repair for the upcoming season. Winter was great for planning and researching projects, not so great for actually DOING them! If you plan ahead and prepare, getting your RV ready for the season or checking it once a year if you are blessed to live in a warmer climate, should go smoothly and easily. Yes, I know NOTHING ever goes, smoothly and easily. Let's hope this Spring's charmed.

**Many of the tasks below have links to articles on that subject. Click and find out more!

Start with a list of basic tasks. The list below can be changed to suit your particular RV, but is a good guideline. Mine reads as follows:

Remove Cover Straps (guess who forgot to undo the straps AGAIN last year!)
Remove Cover
Inspect Cover for Rips and Tears, Repair if Needed/Possible
Roll and Fold Cover and Store. (In a Dry Place!)
Walk Around Outside Look For Obvious Defects
Inspect/Clean Windshield Wiper Blades - Replace If Needed
Inspect Windshield Washer Nozzle and Hoses (Cracks, Breaks, Dry Rot.)
Inspect/Repair Running Lights
Inspect Front/Rear Lights/Headlights
Inspect Mirrors!
Inspect Backup Camera
Inspect Underneath For Leaks, Puddles, Dry Rotted Hoses, Excessive Rust, Cracked Gas Pipe Joints, Frame Problems, etc.
Inspect Tires and Inflate to proper pressure (Check Dates!)
Check TPMS Sensors (Tightness and Battery Replacement, if needed)
Wash RV and Inspect for cracks, chips, glass breaks, leaks, etc. Repair if needed.
Check For Mold/Mildew on Exterior Seals (Clean As Needed)
Open Outside Engine Compartment, Check for Leaks and Nests.
Open Storage Compartments and Inspect Doors, Seals, & Locks(leaks, bugs, critters, etc.)
Clean Outside Refrigerator Compartment (Spiderwebs, Leaves, Nests, etc.)
Clean Outside Furnace Compartment (Spiderwebs, Leaves, Nests, etc.)
Clean Outside Water Heater Compartment (Spiderwebs, Leaves, Nests, etc.)
Replace Water Heater Drain Plug and/or Anode.
Clean Battery(ies) and Terminals if Needed. (Chassis, House and Generator)
Check Coach and Chassis Battery Water Level, Refill if needed. (Distilled Water ONLY!)
Check Hitch Receiver
Check Hitch/Trailer Wiring

Open Door(s) Test Operation. Lubricate if Needed.
Test Operation of Electric Stairs (Lubricate/Repair as Needed)
Turn On Lights, Replace Any Bad Bulbs/Fluorescents
Check All LED Bulbs and Fixtures
Open Vents, Test Seals and Operation
Clean Pop-Locks On Vents
Open Blinds - Check Function (Adjust If Needed), Clean
Open Windows, Test Seals and Operation. Check Locking Mechanisms
Close and Clean Blinds
Open Cabinets (Upper and Lower) Organize Shifted Contents
Check for Leaks; Roof, Doors, Vents, etc.
Check for Critters. (Bugs, Mammals, Gremlins, etc.)
Check & Clean Interior (Carpets, Walls, Floors, Cabinets, Fridge, etc.)
Check LP/Propane/CO Detector Operation
Check Smoke Detector Battery and Operation
Check Monitor Panel, Tanks and Propane
Check Converter/Charger For 12 Volt Output
Check All Fuses and Breakers (12V and 120V)
Confirm Solar Charging System Voltage and Amperage (If Applicable)
Check Bathroom Skylight for leaks and cracks.
Check Bathroom Vent for Operation and Seal.
Check All Flashlights (Batteries, Charged? and Bulbs)
Check and Tighten ALL screws and fasteners Everywhere!

Check Oil Level, Fill if Needed
Check Coolant Level, Fill if Needed
Check Brake Fluid Level, Fill if Needed
Check Power Steering Fluid Level, Fill if Needed
Check Transmission Fluid Level, Fill if Needed
Check Windshield Wiper Blades Replace If Needed.
Check Windshield Washer Nozzles, Replace if Needed
Check Windshield Fluid Level, Fill if Needed
Check All Hoses and Tighten Clamps
Check Airbag Compressor for operation and leaks.
Check Air Bag System Pressure
Check Air bag System for Leaks

Check Fuel Levels
Check Battery Volts
Start Engine
Check for Oil Pressure Rise
Listen to Idle (Sound OK?)
Check Idle Speed RPM
Check for Battery Charging (Volts/Amps)
Check TPMS Monitor for Operation and Correct Pressures
Check Temperature Gauge for Rise
Listen for "strange" noises. Clangs, Bonks, Whistles, Squeals, Chattering, Rattles, Clunks etc.
Shift Into Each Gear (Foot on Brake!!)
When In Reverse, Check Backup Camera Monitor
Switch On Dash Air Conditioner (Got Cold Air?)
Select Dash Heat and Defrost (Got Hot Air?)
Shutdown After Everything Warms Up to Operating Temperature
Re-Check Oil Level, Fill if Needed
Re-Check Transmission Fluid Level, Fill if Needed
Go Outside, Look Under RV..Any New Leaks?

Check Shore Power Cord & Plugs
Unplug Shore Power Cord
Check Generator Compartment for Oil Leaks
Check generator and Wiring for Obvious Problems
Check Oil Level, Fill if Needed (Coolant too! If you have it)
Start Generator
Check for leaks
Check for Transfer Switch Operation
Run for 30 minutes (or so)
Check Voltage at Sockets without Load
Check Voltage at Sockets with Load
Shutdown Generator
Turn On Inverter (If You Have One!)
Check AC Power From Inverter

Turn On Gas at Main Tank Valve
Listen and Check for Leaks (Use handheld detector)
Check for leaks in Refrigerator, Furnace and Water heater Compartments
Check for leaks Inside (Stove, Water Heater, Furnace, Refrigerator)
Check & Clean Stove Vent System
Light 1 Burner, Check for Blue Flame and Even Burn
Turn Off
Check Other Burners.
Turn Off Stove Valves
Set Thermostat to Heat
Confirm Furnace Ignition
Confirm Heater Vent Airflow and Temperature
Shut Off Thermostat
Confirm No Leaks from All Stove Valves in the OFF Position

APPLIANCE CHECKS (On Both Shore Power AND Generator/Inverter)
Attach Shore Power (or use Generator)
Check and Clean Air Conditioner Filters
Turn on Air Conditioner, Wait for it to engage
Check for Cool Air
Check for Heat Strip Operation (if installed)
Shutdown Air Conditioner
Inspect Microwave
Set Clock
Run for 1 Minute (heat something up!)
Check Coffee Maker Operation (VERY Important!)
Remove and Store Refrigerator Door Spacer
Inspect And Clean Refrigerator Interior
Check Fridge DC Control Panel Operation
Turn On Refrigerator (on AC Power)
Clean Out Refrigerator Chimney/Fan/Cooling Fins/Tubes and Check for Debris/Nests/Bugs
Confirm Refrigerator Heating Element is Warming Boiler in Outside Compartment)
Switch Refrigerator to Propane (LP Gas)
Confirm Flame Ignition (By Sound AND Visually Outside In Compartment)
Switch Back to Electric (or AUTO)
Check Refrigerator Door Seals and Lock(s)
Replace Refrigerator/Freezer Thermometer Batteries
Turn On Entertainment System
Check Inputs (Antenna/VCR/DVD/Satellite/VGA/HDMI)
Check Bluetooth (If Applicable!)
Check Sound
Raise/Lower TV/Satellite Antenna
Turn Everything Off.

WATER SYSTEM (without Sanitize) 
Re-Connect Water Pump to Tank
Set Valves to Tank Fill
Re-Insert Water Heater Drain Plug
Close Low Point Hot and Cold Water Drains
Check All Fittings
Close Faucets
Partially Fill Water Tank (Hose or Connect City Water)
Set Valves To Operating Position
Turn of Water Heater Bypass (If You Have One!)
Pressurize System (Pump and City Water, One at a time)
Check For Leaks
Open Each Faucet Until It Runs Clear(to Remove Antifreeze and Air)
Check Toilet Main Drain. (Holding Antifreeze?)
Check Flush Fill and Drain
Fill Fresh Water Tank (and/or Use City Water)
Check Faucet Water Filter
Check For Leaks (Look in All Cabinets! Under Coach as Well!)
Open Faucets and Run Water until Clear
Check For Leaks AGAIN!!
Make Sure Water Heater Emergency Pressure Relief Valve is Closed!
Turn On Water Heater (Propane)
Check for Ignition
Wait At Least 10 Minutes (Water Has to Heat Up You know!)
Confirm Hot Water and Flow
Check For Leaks (Inside Hot Side Plumbing AND Outside Water Heater Compartment)
Switch Water Heater to Electric (If You Have It Installed)
Confirm Hot Water and Flow
Clean and Inspect Water Drains and Pipes
Shut Everything Down

Close All Windows
Shut Off All Appliances
Shut Down Propane Gas Flow
Turn Off Lights
Close and Lock Doors.

While this list is geared toward my coach, most of it will likely apply to yours. Hopefully, it will start you off  safely and with some peace of mind this season.

Feel free to send me new items to add or ask questions!

Be Seeing You....Down The Road

Rich "The Wanderman"


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Great Modern BBQ Lighting System That Works!

    Isn't it always great when you can get a great product at a great price. I regularly search all the liquidation stores in my area and beyond doing just that. Every once in a while I stumble upon an item I've wanted for a while that is so deeply discounted that I cannot resist its siren song any longer. This time it wasn't all that costly! I found a beautifully designed BBQ grill illumination system that looks great AND works great. Perfect for cooking outside the RV.

How Could I Resist!
Cuisinart is a great name. Over the years I have had products manufactured by them that have lasted much longer than their competitors. (I know, that's not always the case, but more often than not.) Just looking at the construction of this beauty shows you why. Utilizing thick plastic and metal this light is a bit heavy. That's a good thing here as it will likely last a long time.

Now on to the functions and actual use. It's BRIGHT! With all three LEDs on, it will definitely light up your grill. It would have been nice to have a way to turn on either one, two or all three LEDs, but there isn't. It attaches to your grill lid handle with a robust clamp. I have a "Jenn-Air" branded grill at home and it held on very well with no slippage on the metal handle.

One of the coolest things about this light is that you can expand the entire unit. That means it can go from a narrow REALLY bright spotlight on the center of your grill to a wider "flood-light" pattern. Besides being useful, it really looks cool when you extend it. Impress your friends....well, only if they are easily impressed or enjoy unique LED lights like I do. The light runs on 3 AAA batteries and should last a long time on a set. The clamping system can be used on other surfaces as well. It so happens to clamp well to my open overhead cabinet doors and works great to really see what's in them. The bottom line? At 75% off (a whopping $7.50) it was a great deal.

One Day I may get around to installing 12 Volt LED lights inside the overhead cabinets, but not just yet. Until then, this works beautifully.  Makes it easier to clean up your grill after dark. Especially if you have a good cleaning tool. It's sleek and modern...just!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Editor: If you can't find these in a nearby discount store but just have to have one, they're on Amazon (for about $20). 


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Even The Simple Things - Mini Brush Surface Cleaner!

    I begin many of my stories with the "I hate cleaning" exclamation. Well, it's true, I DO hate cleaning. Any time I come across anything that will make cleaning tasks easier or faster I am all over them. While perusing a local dollar store I came across a small, hand-held device that looked like it would make many clean-up tasks easier and faster. After looking at it for a while, it came to me...My Grandmother had one of these when I was little. I remember those meals fondly, she was a great cook! After meals, she would use it all the time. If it worked for her, it would work for me!

It's a simple device, a roller brush attached to a plastic tray with a slot in it. The brush protrudes just enough that it will sweep debris into the tray when moved/rolled over it. There is a top half that snaps into place over the brush to contain any flying or flinging debris. The two halves separate to empty the device into the trash. It's an elegant design that just works. It picked up crumbs (obviously) and bits of food easily. Dried-on bits, not so much. Wet, sloppy messes, not at all. But that's a given. At the "dollar" store, they were two for 4.00. So a bit "pricey."

Now that's not to say it isn't without its faults. The tab that holds the top half on is a bit flimsy and must be manipulated carefully. If it breaks, the device will still work, but you have to hold the halves together manually. When you are done cleaning, separate the halves and dump in the trash. I find if you flip it over (brush side up) and tap a few times most of the debris will fall into the top half and be easily dumped. Once in a while, you'll need to clean the brush. You can use water for this, but make sure it is dry before putting it away as the metal parts will rust. It even works on soft surfaces, like beds...

Why is it that so-called "dollar" stores often have very few items for a buck? And lots of items for much more. That's not to say there aren't real dollar stores; in fact, I have one close by. Just that many don't live up to their names. Maybe it's the value for a dollar? Who knows....

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

A Great Idea For Anti-Spill Heat Resistant Coasters

One Of MANY Coffee Makers In My RV
   Coasters. Yes, coasters. Who really uses them every time? Not I. That just changed. Since I hate to clean so much and I enjoy relaxing, especially on vacation road trips, I found a way that a special coaster will help me do both. No, really! Think about it...if you use a coaster, it can prevent scorching of your table or other surface. It prevents those rings of moisture from damaging them as well. But what about a big glass of something iced that just exceeds the capacity of your coaster and spreads out all over the place. Or even the big cup of coffee (I LIKE coffee!) that you sip and put down just to spill some over the rim? Coffee can stain...HOT coffee can stain quickly. I have a cheap and easy solution.

A few days ago, I had to pick up my car from the dealer. Yes, I know, I'm not too fond of the dealer either...but it was for a free service so it's OK. Just down the road is a large IKEA store. It's fun to look through their gizmos and gadgets as they almost always have something I can use or re-purpose for the road. This time was no exception. I found a really cool set of coasters made from compressed cork that has a lip all the way around to catch liquid. I should have thought of that! Well, I didn't, but thankfully someone did.

Nice Deep Rim
They come two to a pack for just $1.67, an odd price, but well worth it. I should have bought two more! They do come in two sizes, but the larger one will work well for almost any drinking container. Besides, it will hold much more before spilling over. As a nice bonus, they are non slip and non skid. No more sliding glassware if you're not quite level. The larger size will easily fit most standard and slightly oversized coffee mugs as well. No, not the enormous ones that hold half a pot! But the larger ones that hold 2 Cups worth. Hmmm.

Why is it that a mug, which most folks use for coffee, is actually two cups worth of liquid as indicated by the markings on the pot? Must be a throwback to those dainty little porcelain cups of yore.

No dainty cups for me. Especially in the morning I need my java boost from a thick mug. Since my coordination that early is always a bit off, having somewhere to aim my cup and capture mistakes is a boon. They don't even take up much space. Nice. Very nice.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Even The Simple Things - Dual Magnifying Glass

Tiny Serial And Model Numbers!
    Although I will never admit it, sometimes I need to see something better. Clearer and nearer. I won't use glasses (not yet at least!) but I will use a magnifying glass. I've been afraid to keep a good glass one in the RV since it would likely break or would require lots of care to keep in good shape. As everyone already knows, I haunt quite a few dollar stores and merchandise liquidators all over the place. You never know what you'll find. This time I came up with an acrylic plastic dual power hand held magnifying glass that actually works well. Yup, you guessed it...only 1 dollar.

Nice, Big Design.
  This one has a large (4" across) main lens and a smaller 1" double power one. They look to be about 2X and 5X respectively. Now, don't go thinking this will magnify with the same quality as a glass lens, it won't. However, for jobs that don't require perfect precision it's just fine. Reading tiny serial numbers on electronics, the stick-on appliance label behind the the dark...with a problem. Taking a look at a tiny eyeglass hinge screw hole to see if it's stripped? Yup, the smaller lens works fine. Not perfect, but good enough. And since it's worries about shattering. I wrap mine up in a microfiber cloth that came in a pack of three for, yes, you guessed it, 1 dollar! It stays clean and scratch free until I need it.

It's really handy to have the double power mini magnifier built in. You can simply move your hand a bit and get a "zoomed in" view of any detail. Some folks swear by their cell phone camera lens and use it to zoom in on items. That would work, but just pulling out this beauty and taking a look is simpler and doesn't require any power. It also works WAY better in full daylight than any LED screen I've seen on a phone or tablet. Just in case you were wondering....yes, you can start fires with it.  In a pinch...that could save your life.

Like everything...YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary). I'm happy to have found this looking glass. Perhaps I have a bit of the Sherlock Holmes fantasy left over. Indubitably.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Crazy Kitchen Gadget That's Not That Crazy! - With Bonus Recipe

I Love My 4 Burner Stove-top!
    Have you ever found a kitchen gadget and thought, "This thing is ridiculous!"? I have, many times. While perusing through a local dollar store a couple of days ago, I came across something that seemed like a dumb idea. It was a plastic/silicone ugly green "chopper." At first, I couldn't figure out what it could possibly be used for. At closer inspection, it purported to break up clumps of chopped meat while browning or frying. Hmmmm....I do that quite often, also with sausages and other things. I wondered if it would make that any easier. Hey, for a buck....why not try?

Weird Looking, I Know.
Once home, I searched a bit in the freezer and found a 2-pound block of hamburger to try it out on. I figured it would make some meat sauce/sort-of bolognese that would get used with lots of recipes later on. So, I defrosted the meat in the microwave using the built-in weight defrost function and turning it over halfway through. Make sure you watch carefully so it doesn't begin to cook. Slightly frosty is OK as long as you can get it apart. While it's defrosting, heat up some olive oil in a large skillet and add fresh chopped garlic (or freeze dried!) and some finely chopped sweet onions. I finely chop some carrots as well and toss them in. By the time these are in the pan, the meat is ready to go. Dump it into the skillet and use the tool to break up the large chunks until you get the size you prefer. Add some salt and pepper to taste.

 When the beef is mostly cooked through, add your choice of canned tomatoes. I prefer crushed (28 oz.), but stewed or whole would be fine. I'd break up the whole ones with this handy tool, but you don't have to. Add some water or consomme, lower the heat to simmer and cover. Cook until done. It will be a rich, thick sauce.

The Business End.
There are some obvious uses for this aside from chopped meat. I make a killer Chili that begins with cubes of chuck. They would be easier to break down (even though they are fork soft) with this beastie. Then there's my favorite beef and barley soup that uses the same cubes...except you have to fork split it before it goes into the soup. This would be perfect. Pretty much anything that you can cook in a skillet that needs to be broken up (even frozen veggies and the like) are great candidates for this thing.

This handy dandy tool works great as a stirrer as well. The more I look at its design, the more I believe it could be used for other purposes. Not sure what...maybe a back scratcher? Give me some time, I'll find some other uses for sure.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Lithium Ion Rechargeable Batteries For Flashlights?

    As an admitted flashlight aficionado, I am constantly on the lookout for new models and better ways of powering them. Recently I wrote an article about the big brother of my daily carry flashlight. Unlike its smaller cousin, it can run on either 3 AAA Alkaline batteries OR a single 18650 Lithium Ion Cell. Let me tell you, there are A LOT of choices out there at all price levels for those rechargeable batteries. I ordered a whole bunch (and chargers too!) to test and report on. These are UNBIASED reports as no company furnished any merchandise at all. Here's what I found out...

All batteries are not created equal. While researching the 18650 size I found wildly differing claims on capacity. From 1500mAh all the way up to a whopping 6000mAh. Of course I just avoided the lowest ones and ordered some from 3500mAh up to the 6000mAh. Each group was ordered with its own brand of charger. More on those later. Once they arrived (many, but not all were shipped from China or Hong Kong), I got down to testing. I used one of my lights (an XML-T6 Cree version) that can run on 3 AAA batteries or a single 18650. Since voltages vary quite a bit from fully charged to almost dead, the range is actually about 3.5 to 4.2 V nominal, with the Li-ION version staying at a higher voltage for longer and supplying more Amps over a longer time period. In English, it stays at a higher power level and brighter...longer. So on to the test. With two of the same flashlights each running one type of battery, I turned them on and let them run till they dimmed noticeably. The Li-ION started brighter and stayed brighter longer. No real surprise there. Now let's talk about run times.

The Big Brother Was Used For testing
All over the place. The batteries marked with the highest capacity usually weren't better and the lowest ones were usually a bit higher capacity. Best I could calculate, the nicer ones had around 3300mAh and the cheapest ones were around 1200mAh! All for the same price, each. Be careful, there are a lot of false claims out there. I did find out that the batteries that rate consistently higher are heavier. Around 45 grams. The cheaper "knockoffs" are a lot lighter at 26 grams. Now on to chargers.

12 Volt And 120 Volt Chargers

Since these batteries can be charged with 5 Volts, they are a natural to use a USB cable as a power source. The higher the amperage the better, as Li-ION can charge at fast rates with more amps going in. (**Within reason!) The typical trickle USB charger at .500mA will eventually charge one, but slowly. 1 Amp is better. The chargers that come with the batteries were, essentially, all the same. They list at around 750mA charging and for the 12 Volt DC charger (cigarette lighter plug) only around 500mA. They will charge...just slowly. Figure a bit less than overnight for a 50% used battery. You can always buy a much better, higher quality charger. In fact, I've ordered several and will be testing them over the next few weeks.

**WARNING!** I know there is a real danger using sub-standard lithium-ion batteries. There is a real worry about "thermal runaway" -- this is when the battery overheats when charging or discharging and it causes a cascade effect, causing the battery to melt down or even explode. Monitor these batteries carefully until you are sure they are working as advertised. It always pays to be careful when dealing with new technology.

So, what's the verdict? You get what you pay for. Sort of. The cheapest ones and the more expensive ones are all the same price...within a few dollars. When you get to the name brands (Panasonic) they are much more expensive, but actually match their rated specifications. The ratio is way off -- you can buy 5 knockoffs for each "real" one. If you find a good supplier, you can get decent knockoffs and have lots on hand.  As always, YMMV!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Even The Old Radio Can Learn New Tricks! - A Better Cassette Adapter

Of Course, The RV Already Got An Upgrade!
    Many of my vehicles still have cassette players. I like it that way. I have a large collection of cassettes that were amassed during the early 80's long before CDs took their place. In many ways the cassette is superior. No, really. Try tossing a CD into the back seat and then retrieve and try to play it! They need to be held like their bigger vinyl brethren the LP/Record. By the edges, carefully avoiding scratches. The only issue is most cassette player stereos for cars don't give you a way to input your music or your cell phone. Sure, you could wire it all together on the back if you have a high end stereo, but what about something simpler?

A while back cassette adapters were selling like hotcakes, they looked just like a cassette with a headphone plug coming out of it and simply plugged into your cassette tape slot and allowed you to plug into the headphone jack on your music player. Voila! Music through your stereo. Worked pretty good. Then most folks abandoned their standalone music players for their phones. Unfortunately, most phones lose their ability to "hear" when the headphone jack has something plugged into it. Now what? Simple, get one that has a built in microphone. I found just that for $2.50 at Wal-Mart. In the clearance aisle no less!

The next question...would they live up to the hype and actually work well to feed music into your stereo and your voice into the phone? In a word...YES! Not only does it allow you to use your phone as a music device, it allows you to use your phone, hands-free while getting loud, clear sound from your stereo. Win-Win! In addition, it has a really handy retractable cord reel that you set at various lengths or pull all the way out. It stores the cord neatly when not in use. Not so great is how careful you have to be to pull both sides equally or the cord will tangle. Be will be rewarded.

You can use this gizmo with almost any installed stereo in your RV as long as it plays cassettes tapes. After my recent stereo upgrade, I have built in Bluetooth capability so don't need it in the RV. If you have an 8 Track player (and remember what that is!) you are out of luck!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Easy, One Pan, Mexican Meal - Works With MANY Ingredients!

Yeah, It's Cold.
    Being cooped up in the winter, there's not much I can do except dream about this season's trips, modifications and improvements to the RV and eating. When it's cold out nothing satisfies like cooking a great meal and relaxing while eating it and watching the snowfall outside. Traditionally, this meal is a soup or a stew. I also do chili, but that's a whole 'nother article. (It takes me 17 hours to make the perfect slow cooker chili...and it's well worth the wait!) I raided the fridge recently and had very few ingredients for a hearty meal....and I just wasn't in the mood for big prep and clean-up chores so this recipe just "jumped out" at me.

MMMMmmm, and No Heartburn!
I love the spice mix and flavor profile of good Mexican food. I'm NOT talking about fast food that wants you to believe it once knew someone from Mexico, I'm talking about honest to goodness, home-cooked fare that families (well and single folks too) would eat for dinner when not going all out. Simple, fresh ingredients and easy techniques....that's all there is to it. So, what did I end up making? I noticed a bag of those red, yellow and orange, tiny sweet peppers in the produce drawer. Next to those was a medium sized red onion and a bunch of rubber banded fresh cilantro. In the freezer I found a 1 pound block of chicken tenders. Some Salsa and chopped garlic from the top shelf of the fridge, some lime juice as well...rounded out the recipe.

Fresh Cilantro Cannot Be Beat!
Over to the spice cabinet, I pulled some Chili powder, black pepper, Kosher salt and a bottle of regular hot sauce (you can pick any brand you like)  While defrosting the chicken in the microwave, I cut the peppers and onion into 1/4 inch slices then cut those in half. The more uniform they are cut the more evenly they will cook. Once that was finished, the chicken was ready to be cut up. On another cutting board, this time(!) in 1/2 inch slices then in half like the vegetables. Sprinkle some Kosher salt on the chicken and the vegetables (NOT too much...) Pull a bunch of leaves from the cilantro bunch and roll them up. Cut horizontally and then lightly chop to get the flavor coming out nicely.

My Folding Handle Skillet
Pull out your 12 inch (or larger) skillet and put some vegetable oil at the bottom...about 1/4 cup is fine. After the oil is good and hot, turn down the flame (or remove from heat after turning down your electric stovetop) and add the onions, they will sizzle and likely splatter a bit. I use a splatter guard to keep things clean. Put them back on the heat and reduce to medium high. Once the onions are slightly translucent add the chicken. Push it around with whatever tool you prefer to cook with. Once it's cooked on the outside add the rest of the vegetables, but NOT the cilantro. Sprinkle the top with lime juice, stir, then turn down the heat to medium and cover the pot. Let it cook for a few minutes until the vegetables are the way you like them. Take off the lid, add 1/2 cup of salsa and the cilantro. Mix well and put the cover back on for 3 minutes or so. That's it! Done.

Everything comes out tender and flavorful. AND you can serve from the skillet on a trivet or big potholder. Yes, you could eat from the skillet as well, but that might be considered a bit barbaric. Clean-up is a breeze. A great meal for a miserable day.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Let's Talk About Ceramic Knives - Good, Bad...Ugly?

    For MANY years, long before they were easy to find and more commonplace, I found a wonderful folding ceramic bladed knife. I carry it everyday and after MANY years it serves me very well. Believe it or not, it's still quite sharp. My little folding Boker Ceramic (black blade) has been long discontinued, but due to its utility and the flood of inexpensive ceramic knives on the market I decided to take another look at them for use in the RV. While I couldn't find another one like mine, I did stumble across lots of kitchen versions.

Tiny, But Useful!
Knives are useful. That's pretty obvious, I know. But in the RV environment (especially if you only use it in warm weather) steel knives can get rusty and when used a lot they can get dull. Stainless steel makes for a great improvement, but they are more expensive and a bit harder to sharpen. I know lots of techniques for sharpening knives, but when I am on an RV trip it's supposed to be a VACATION, so sharpening knives isn't really on the to speak. How about ceramic kitchen knives? They don't rust, stay sharp a long time and are a less expensive than their steel counterparts. I'm not talking about dollar store steel knives, I'm talking about medium quality chefs knives. The high quality ones are very expensive and usually not needed for traveling!

A Three Piece Set
What's available now? Well, you can buy ceramic knives in many sizes and colors. Some come in sets of three or can be bought individually. They can be had in many colors. So far, I've picked up the two smaller ones: a paring knife and a vegetable knife. They are incredibly sharp and for very little money will outlast most inexpensive kitchen knives easily. This is not to say everything is roses...far from it. The biggest Achilles heel (and strength) of ceramic blades is that they are very hard so they are very brittle. This means that a sharp blow can cause them to simply break or, at worst, shatter. It's also what makes them keep their edges so well and for so long. You SHOULD NOT chop with them, especially on a hard surface. I always use a relatively soft plastic or wood cutting board. NEVER use them on a ceramic plate! It would be bad. You also cannot PRY with them. Not that you should ever pry with any regular knife anyway, but these will break without too much force being applied.

All these downsides aren't really that hard to manage. Treat them nicely and they will last a long time. For the cost of a cheap steel knife, you can try one of these. Online they can be found for as little as $5.99 for a 3" paring knife to around $12.99 for a 6" general purpose one. There are many other sizes and price points. I suggest you buy one and try it out. I've been using mine most of the winter. So far, so good. Did I mention they are dishwasher safe? And they clean up very easily? Since they really are so sharp...fingers beware!

What's not to like?

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Editor: If you're interested, here's a link to check them out on Amazon. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Another Way Cool LED Light! - No, REALLY!

    A while ago I wrote an article about an inexpensive LED light that was so good, two of them have garnered a permanent place affixed to the side of my metal range hood. The only drawback they had, was the inability to aim the light without holding it in your hand (or more likely in your mouth!). You couldn't really balance them on anything.

Well...I ran across one that you can AIM and is less expensive and even brighter. So far...what's not to like?

It's Really nice!
Well, let's start with the good. It's brighter since it uses a newer technology style of LED bulbs and there are 20 of them! It has the same flood light and flashlight modes. However, the flashlight side is still 3 older style LEDs. It's just as bright as the old one, so I guess that's OK. Same method of operation. One click for flashlight, click again for flood light and once more to turn off. Simple to operate. It still has a folding hanger on the back, which is great. There is a stand attached with a hinge on the sides of the light -- this can act as a stand or a handle. Built into the stand is a strong magnet.  This is where it wasn't Quite as useful as the old one -- storage.

I have two of the old style lights attached to the side of my range hood. The magnets are flush with the back of the lights, so they stay flat and secure while underway. The new light forces the light to "stick out" from the surface and a bump in the road will cause it to drop off. It also sticks out far enough to get in the way, generally. I still like this light. A lot! And with a $2.50 price point (including batteries) at any Wal-Mart, it's a bargain. My other lights are usually $2.99 to $3.99, depending on the current sale. I couldn't take a photo of the light while it was on -- it's really too bright!

I often wonder if there is a "flashlights anonymous" program. I mean, I see something unique and new and I have to have one. I guess as far as vices go, this one's not too terrible.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Very Cool, Easy Way To Cook Eggs Quickly!

    Ever since the powers that be have changed their minds about the healthfulness of fresh eggs, I have been enjoying at least one for breakfast most days. I make them lots of different ways, scrambled, over, frittata, omelette and quite a few others. Always with various ingredients I have on hand. (Leftovers are GREAT for this!) Usually I pull out a skillet and go to town. Now I have another way using the microwave oven, that has even less cleanup. And that's a good thing indeed!

This gadget purported to make 1-4 fresh eggs at a time, either scrambled, or poached or even "mcmuffin" style. It's made of very heavy-duty ceramic, nicely finished. It's about the size of a large coffee mug with no handle and has various bits of silicone to seal the container and keep your hands and fingers from burning when it's hot. Although, that didn't work out too well. this thing gets HOT! It is designed to work exclusively in the microwave. Now, I know that microwaved eggs can get rubbery and nasty, but so far...this device keeps them fluffy and delicious. Unless you seriously exceed the cooking time the manufacturer recommends.

 Depending upon the number of eggs and other ingredients you add, the time to cook will vary from 50 seconds to 3.5 minutes. The gizmo will cook up to 4 eggs at once. There is an easily read line inside that shows the maximum amount of ingredients allowed. if you go over this line, you will end up with eggs pushing the lid off and all over your microwave. Don't ask me how I learned this! Also, be very careful as the cooker is quite hot when it's finished. Use a pot holder! Clean-up is pretty easy, though next time I use it, a quick spray of some brand of cooking spray will likely make it even easier.

The Eggs DOUBLE In Size!
So far, I have used this with just plain eggs, with cheese added, with mushrooms and cheese, with peppers and cheese and with cooked bacon and cheese. All of them came out fluffy and delicious. I haven't tried to make a NON-scrambled egg yet, but I imagine it would work similar to my egg mcmuffin cooker that I have been using for years. I noticed that the ingredients cook perfectly and are ready at the same time as the eggs, so your imagination is the only limit. I wouldn't rely on it to cook raw bacon though.... Since steam is the main cooking component at work here, the cooking times are going to vary quite a bit depending upon your microwave's power levels.

Since I can cook a couple of eggs in around 2 minutes, my inverter setup (recharged by solar) doesn't have a problem with excessive draw. Your setup may be different. You could always start the generator or remain on shore power. The bottom line? If you want good eggs in a hurry with or without "mix-ins" this thing works as advertised. What more could you ask for?

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Editor: The Egg-Tastic is a best-seller on Amazon.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Cool Flat Portable LED Light.

    Many years ago I used to frequent the Sharper Image shops and read through their catalogs. Every once in a while something really interesting would catch my eye. A couple of weeks ago I was in a Target and noticed a small display of Sharper Image branded items. One thing that stood out was a flat, clear LED light with an attached black handle. It was so unusual (and 90% off!/$1.49) that I couldn't resist. I wish I had purchased a few more! Yes, I am addicted to flashlights! Sometimes the strangest things can be found in the most ordinary places.

Well Put Together With Screws
This black beauty is about 12 inches long by 5 inches wide and only 3/4 of an inch thick. When I bought it, the light output was pretty abysmal. Since it took 4 AAA batteries I had to wait until I got home to replace them. Once there, with the new batteries in place, I was AMAZED at the light output of this gizmo. It's so bright as to be hard to look at directly. The light is diffused and really works well to light up a decent-sized area. It could easily replace a small lantern. It's not perfect though. The switch to turn on the light and cycle through the other features is a simple push button covered by a large plastic molded cover that matches the shape of the edge of the unit. It's WAY too easy to hit accidentally and run your batteries dead.

Did I mention "other features?" Well, it does have two other modes. Press the button once and you get the incredible light. Press it again and it turns on a small backlit translucent red strip on the front of the light. Press it once again and that little red light flashes. Ummm...why? The last press turns it off. Kind of annoying to have to press this button 3 additional times just to turn the light off. AND you have to pass through two useless features first. On the other hand, it DOES have a metal stand that swivels flush with the base when not is use. That is VERY useful. I guess everything is a compromise.

Ah, well. I'll still take a few more if I can find them. Since it's so slim, I can slide it in almost anywhere I have a narrow space. No idea, yet, how long the batteries will last. But I WILL find out!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"