Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mini Blinds, Love Them Or Hate Them - Here's How To Clean Them Easily

Windows Everywhere!
    With many windows comes many blinds. That's a bit of wisdom for the day. I have seven windows in my RV that have blinds on them. Mini blinds...the metal ones. When I first bought the Aero Cruiser, I swore I was going to switch them to the cellular style with day/night shades and room darkening liners. I like the way they look and they don't rattle around when you're driving. Funny thing, I've grown accustomed to the metal mini blinds. Call me crazy, but they do work and you can sneak a peak outside without opening them.Still debating the swap-over. In the mean-time I had to clean them. This is not fun at all. Quite tedious actually. Every individual slat, top and bottom. Bleh. There must be a better way!

There is! And I've found it. Completely by accident! I was walking through a housewares store and stumbled upon the solution to the mini blind blues. It will clean 2 slats at a time with ease! And it really does a great job. It's called a FUZZY WUZZY not the greatest brand name in the world, and the bright pink is anything BUT masculine. I don't care! It works VERY well and I'm quite secure in my masculinity thank you. This beauty comes complete with 2 washable cotton/polyester blend to cover the tool's head and the tool itself. Using it is simplicity itself.

Before Application
After Application
Simply insert the "fingers through the slats (I pre-spray the slats with a cleaner) and squeeze the handle gently. Slide the tool across the slats, stopping at the strings. Skip the string (obviously!) and re-grab. Go all the way across each set of slats this way and you're DONE.

Easy. I did my whole RV, all seven windows in under 15 minutes. I still didn't like doing it, but before I became really annoyed it was finished. A fair trade-off. I've noticed there are a fair amount of clean-up jobs around the RV that I could do without. Maybe I can find tools like this to take some of the pain out of doing them?

Sometimes I can get really excited about the most mundane things. Anytime someone builds a better mouse trap that ACTUALLY does a better job (not necessarily catching mice, mind you) I'm happy. This is one of those times. I'll bet we've all had some great ideas like this and never acted upon them. While writing this i thought how great it would have been to have bought stock in an idea like this one. Ah well...back to the drawing board!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Thursday, January 24, 2013

One Pot Meals - Less Cleanup, More Flavor!

I Love My 4 Burner Stove!
    Almost every RV has a Kitchen or Galley these days. Most of them come equipped with multi-burner stove tops, an oven and even a microwave. I've even got a convection/microwave in my rig. They tend to be smaller than your typical home kitchen (unless you live in a big city style tiny apartment!) For me, cleanup is always a challenge as I don't like to wash dishes and pots (mostly because I like to conserve my meager water supply, but also because I'm a bit lazy!) The trick is to cook delicious meals without using too many pots, pans, utensils and plates.

Limited Kitchen Storage (Pans On Right)
I like skillets. Big ones, little ones all have uses. When I'm by myself, a small one suffices. When I have guest(s) the big one is better. When I travel with my vegan buddy and his family plus a friend along with me, I have to cook a pretty large meal or 2 (or 3.) What to do? Well, before the trip I try and cook a large batch of pasta. Typically I use Farfalle ("bowties") or something along those lines. Cook it. Drain it. Add a bit of butter or olive oil, stir and let cool. I use a "zip-lock" style gallon baggie to store in the fridge. Any air tight storage container will work. Now you have a great base to add various things to for a multitude of meals. I take lots of fresh vegetables with me. Red, green, yellow, orange bell peppers, "purple" onions, sweet onions, mushrooms, and whatever is in season. Add a bit of chicken, shrimp, beef or other meat and some spices and/or marinades and you have the beginnings of a fantastic meal. So far, except for the pre-cooking of the pasta (which you COULD do in the RV so two pots...ah well!) these are all single skillet meals.

Freeze Dried Garlic
Recently I've found a most amazing thing. Freeze dried garlic. These are usually sliced and come in the typical screw top spice containers. It's not dried, so doesn't get soggy or have a different flavor than fresh garlic. You simply shake a few into the oil as you heat up the meal and get a wonderful fresh garlic taste. OK, I'll admit I'm a bit of a garlic aficionado. This stuff really satisfies the garlic craving. Try it, you'll never go back to dehydrated! The chopped jar style is still useful and I will still keep it around, but in a much smaller size jar. When RV'ing every little bit of storage space helps! Besides, I like variety and having a large variety of ingredients to work with can really go a long way when creating a multitude of meals.

Similar Recipe
How about breakfast? There's always the traditional bacon or sausage and eggs, but what about something a bit more substantial? First make sure you have a well fitting lid! Take a can of diced potatoes (or frozen/fresh hash browns) and put them in the pan with a bit of oil. Add some purple and sweet onions. Cook until almost done on one side. Watch the onions, they should be getting translucent at this point. Add some various colors of diced fresh Bell peppers and some mushrooms and green onion slices if you wish. Then crack a few eggs, distributed evenly, over the mixture. The number will depend on the size of your skillet! If you like, you can use an egg substitute from a carton, NOT dry! I like the egg substitute for this recipe, it's a little bit different, more frittata, less "diner-style" but still excellent! Cover and cook until the eggs are almost done the way you like them. Add some shredded cheddar or swiss over the top and recover until melted. Essentially they get steamed from the top down, while the potatoes and onions are getting browned from the bottom up. You could always add some bacon or sausage chunks to the mix..... Slide the meal out onto a plate, cut and serve. I use a pizza cutter (looks like a wheel with sharp edges) works great, tastes great.

What else can you make in a single pot? Depending on how long you'd like to cook, almost any recipe can be adapted. For example, chili can be cooked in a single pot. Most soups and even many casseroles! How about real macaroni and cheese? Not the box kind either! OK..I'm officially hungry now. Time to cook something up. All of these techniques can be used with your favorite ingredients.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,
Rich "The Wanderman"

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Cooking With The Sun - Another Option For Your Food

    Solar Thermal Cooking, can this actually work?!?         Recently, I was working on the design for my passive solar thermal hot water system and came across an article that talks about solar thermal cooking. This uses the heat energy created by the sun to cook food in a container. Some of them can get over 300 degrees in normal sunlight! If I had to compare them to something, I'd say it was like a slow cooker without the need for an outlet. Fascinating stuff, seems like a natural for extended boondocking. After researching them on-line it seems that they are in widespread use in developing countries and there are organizations trying to get them into the hands of needy folks. Sounds worthwhile to me! Anyway, there are three basic categories of design for the Solar Thermal Cooker.

Concentrator Style Cooker
First are the Concentrator types. These focus sunlight with some type of reflector onto a cooking vessel. These can be as simple as a flat piece of cardboard covered in thin mylar foil (an emergency blanket!) then rolled into a cone. It will function nicely on most cooking chores. It's REALLY cheap! And will fold up quite small when stored. Not all that elegant though and the cardboard will eventually wear out. I'd use poster-board or something similar instead. Store it rolled up in a tube. You'll also need some kind of heat resistant container that's OK for food. The darker the color the better, in fact painting it black is a good idea! And a resealable clear plastic bag to keep the moisture in. A twist tie is OK.

Rather Elaborate Solar Concentrator
The Next style is also a concentrator but they focus the light from below rather than above. You can get a VERY nice amount of heat energy from these. They have to be a bit more elaborate since the focus of the sunlight has to be more intense. Parabolic reflectors are perfect for this as they have a set point where the heat is strongest. Years ago I had a Solar powered cigarette lighter that would ignite small objects placed in it's holder. It was about the size of your palm (in fact it was hand-held) and worked. Of course, I didn't actually was still fun to play with! This cooker is going to be MUCH more difficult to store and travel with. The photo is really just an extreme example as you can use a variety of materials to focus the sunlight.

The last major sub-type of Solar cooker is the Box Cooker. I like this one. It isn't terribly complicated or finicky to setup. It can have it's cookware built-in and stores in about the same space as a typical small BBQ. Again, they can be made from a simple cardboard box, a bit of plastic wrap, a dark colored pot and a bit of aluminum foil for a reflector on the lid. You don't NEED the reflector, but it bumps the efficiency up quite a bit. These are actually some of the oldest cooking machines on the planet and have been in use for a LONG time. If you wanted, it would be simple to make one that the box section could collapse down and you stored it flat. I've seen these where the cookware is pre-mounted and you can have more than one food item cooking at once.

From what I've gleaned, these cook like a "crock pot" or slow cooker, so recipes should translate well. I was thinking you could build one of these and have it heat water all day, add a small circulation pump (or put it on the roof) and plumb it into your hot water heater. Hmmm.....sounds like a project.

This summer I will build a few different designs and try them out. Much of what I read led me to believe you don't need crazy amounts of sunlight to cook properly. We'll see. All in all, a worthy addition to the gear I carry....IF it works!

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Fast Food Breakfast Sandwiches - Without The Drive-through!

    I'll admit it, I like the occasional drive through breakfast sandwich. The english muffin, fluffy egg, cheese and slice of "Canadian" bacon, warm and toasty, is just good on some mornings. The main issue is I can't usually get my RV THROUGH the drive-thru! Even though it's only 99" tall, most fast food places are lower or sure LOOK like they are! Not worth the risk. So what to do? I've got the solution and it's a simple one. Those of you who read this column know that's a pretty rare thing indeed.

Easiest and only 65 Seconds of Power
First, the ingredients. Pretty obvious. An English muffin, brand of your choice. A slice of cheese, for this I use a yellow American slice, closer to the fast food style that way. A slice of ham. Almost any will do, however a smoked variety works best. I like to slice it (or have it sliced at the deli counter) thicker than I would for a typical cold cuts style sandwich. And lastly, an egg. Eggs usually get a bad rap. They have been demonized as being arterial clog-meisters and who-knows-what-else bad for you. I do use an egg substitute in a carton for almost everything breakfast-wise simply because it's easier to store and travel with. However, for this recipe/technique, a real egg is truly better.

Typical Stove-Top Toaster
Now for the hardware. First you've got to toast the muffin. If you've got lots of power or are hooked up to shore power than any toaster will do. If you've got limited power resources we have to go back to some turn of the century tools. Believe me, you CAN make decent piece of toast with a propane stove-top. I have a toaster that just sits on the burner and holds 4 pieces (I usually just do 2 of them. English muffins have to be balanced nicely but they work fine). Set it up, turn on the flame to medium and watch until golden brown and delicious. Remember the toaster will be HOT! While you're using your toasting apparatus fire up the microwave for step 2!

Typical Microwave Egg Steamer
First, you gotta buy one of these microwave egg steamers. I have 2 of them, purchased many moons ago. They have separate lids and can steam 2 eggs each. There are several variations on the device now, so you don't need to be too picky. They all work the same way. Spray some kind of non-stick cooking spray into the bottom half. You could also spread some butter or margarine in the bottom cup as well. It makes for a MUCH easier process and clean-up. Then crack one (or two) egg(s) into the cup(s) and poke a few holes in the yolk and the white with a fork or knife tip. Even a toothpick would work. Whatever's handy is fine. This will let steam escape and prevent an egg "blowout".  You could still eat it, but it wouldn't be "pretty." Put the cover on or close the lid, depending on what model you've purchased, then place in the microwave. Set the microwave on HIGH for 65 seconds. You may have to vary the time depending on the power of your particular microwave. You'll hear a muted POP from the worries, that's the egg cooking from the inside out. When done the yolk will be fluffy and the white perfectly cooked and moist. You can heat blast it, but the dried remains aren't all that terrific!

 I usually cook the ham slice(s) on the stove-top as well. Just slap a slice or two in a non-stick pan and heat until its warm and a bit crispy on the outside. NOT BURNT! No oil or shortening needed for this.Should only take a minute or two depending on the thickness of your ham. Remember, smoked is better!

Slide the egg out (you did use non-stick spray, right?) onto the toasted English muffin, top with a slice of cheese and a thick slice of ham. Close it up...wait a few moments. I usually pour some coffee right about now. Then enjoy. the cheese will be melted and everything works well together. No drive-thru danger experienced!

Be Seeing You....Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

P.S. Hey, it's Winter, again! If you any suggestions for articles, let me know, I'm going slowly crazy not being able to go someplace in my RV!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Duck And Cover - Which Cover Is Best For Your RV?

Yes, I Need A Cover!
    OK, I'll admit it. I'm a procrastinator. Living in a region where cold weather and snowfall are the norm it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out a cover isn't a bad idea. Of course, I try and use the RV until the very last day above freezing so it's pretty cold when it's time to cover it up. Last year I noticed a few rips in the deteriorating fabric of my cover. Truth be told, the year before that it was staring to come apart, but with some judicious sewing, I managed to get another year out of it. Well, not so much this time. The cover is in good shape....mostly. It's the front, near the windshield, that is ripped. And ripped badly. More like shredded, actually.

The Old RV Cover In Better Days
I've been looking for a new cover for a while now, but never seem to be able to "pull the trigger" on one. Either I cannot verify whether it will fit; (My RV is 23'8" long and 99" tall) so would the smaller one fit?? or should I get the one for a travel trailer instead? Well, you begin to see the issue. Now that I've put it off and the weather is cold AND the snow has already covered the RV AND I have a makeshift patch on my storm smashed skylight, do I try and make due with what I have, bite the bullet and order what could be the wrong one or forego the cover completely this year and take my chances. Quite the conundrum.

Sample Fabric Types
Covers come in several basic flavors.

1. Polyester fabric
2. Polyester fabric with a Tyvek top
3. Sunbrella (layered proprietary mix)

Each has its' upsides and downsides. To select you've got to figure out what you are trying to repel. If it's the UV from the sun and you're in a hot climate without much rain you'll want one that is as close to 100% UV resistant as possible and will "breathe" a bit to keep up some airflow underneath. If you're expecting heavy rains and lots of moisture mixed with some Sunshine, a heavier cover that is water repellent is much more useful. If you are going to get snowed on, you have to make sure the melting snow will not saturate the cover and trap the moisture next to the skin of your RV.

Thankfully, most RV covers fall into these three major categories.

Self Explanatory?
Next is the Fit. Covers come in many standard sizes and are usually equipped with some way of cinching down the excess material so it doesn't blow off or flap in the breeze potentially damaging your RV's finish, or worse. You could go the full custom route and have one sewn to fit your specific RV, but I believe that's a waste of money for most folks. You will still need to measure your RV to figure out which of the stock sizes is closest. You can always make something smaller, but adding material after you bought it will be next to impossible. My Aero Cruiser RV is 23'8" long but only 99" Tall. A short class A cover will work, but a lot of extra material hangs down past the wheels. I would be better served with a travel trailer cover of the same length. Be wary, don't believe that the cover will have "a little bit extra" automatically. The 24' cover I bought JUST fit.

Yes, That's Through A Window Screen!
When you receive the cover, make sure you are able to get it up onto the roof. If you need help...GET IT! You could experience a pretty nasty fall and some severe injuries just for trying to protect your RV. IMHO...not worth it!  I like to wrap some bubble wrap or spare heavy cloth around the top of the ladder and any other sharp and pointy protrusions on the roof. If you don't you WILL either puncture the cover right away or it will abrade over the winter and fail the next time you use it. I know. I have lots of abrasion holes to patch. Well..I did. Now I won't make that mistake again!

Remember, covers are HEAVY. If you order one online, make sure you figure in shipping (if it isn't free) or you may be in for a pricey surprise when you click on the "shipping" box.

You've likely spent a good penny on your RV and want to keep it in tip top shape. A cover can go a long way toward that goal.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"