How I Cook on the Road

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Auntie M suggested I tell you how I cook on the road before I tell you what I cook on the road. She thinks it’s impressive, but it’s simply second nature to me. I’ll share my cooking techniques today, in the event they might help someone else.

I’ve used a variety of stoves while living on the road–one burner, two burner, propane, butane. My current setup is a basic Coleman two-burner stove connected to a 15 pound propane tank. For many years I used the one pound propane canisters, but The Man finally convinced me to upgrade to the larger, refillable tank. As I said in a past post about saving money on the road, it costs a lot less to refill the tank than it does to buy a comparable number of small canisters. I also produce a lot less waste by refilling the large tank.

This is the cast iron pan I usually use when cooking just for myself.

When The Man and I are cooking for the two of us, we use his big (12 inch?) cast iron skillet. When I’m cooking just for myself, I use a smaller cast iron skillet. (I have a second, even smaller cast iron skillet I also use sometimes if I need to cook two things seperately, but at the same time. The second burner on my stove is sometimes quite handy.) We use a cast iron pan to cook the main part of our meal, which usually consists of vegetables and whole beans or tofu. It’s super convenient to cook everything but our grains in one pan. It’s quicker cooking that way, and we save cleanup time and water by not having to wash several pots and pans.

To cook grains, I use either a large or a small stainless steel pot. The large one is actually a pressure cooker I was given years ago when a friend of a friend moved. The small one was left behind by camp hosts at the end of the season last year.

To prepare the main part of our meal, I first pour a generous amount of olive oil in the cast iron pan, then light the burner under the pan. While the oil is heating, I chop an onion. (If the onion is huge, I might only use half of it.) When the onion is chopped, I makde sure the oil is distributed across the bottom of the pan, then I throw in the onion, spread it out evenly, and put the lid on the pan. Then I chop the other veggies that need a longish time to cook (bell peppers, carrots, and/or potatoes) and add them to the pan. If I’m using tofu or tempeh or seitan, I’ll add it in early in the cooking process. Vegetables that need the shortest time to cook (like broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and yellow squash) are thrown into the pan last. I stir the veggies enough to keep them from burning, and I adjust the flame as necessary.

Once all the veggies are tender, I add any canned ingredients like diced or stewed tomatoes, whole beans, or refried beans. Then I throw in spices appropriate to the dish I’m cooking. Once all ingredients are in the pan, I make sure everything is heated thoroughly. I should probably let the food simmer longer in order to “marry” the flavors, but we’re usually pretty hungry so we just eat.

Cooking grains ws a hassle when I used small propane canisters and butane because grains take so long to cook. I always felt like cooking grains took up too much fuel, so I either bought precooked brown rice (expensive!) or cooked the grains in a way that used less fuel. Now that I spend less money to fill a large propane tank, I don’t worry so much about how much fuel it takes to cook grains, but I do use parboiled brown rice and quinoa a lot because they cook faster.

Dwelling Portably 1980-1989 (DIY)
You may be wondering how I cooked grains in a way that used less fuel. I first learned of cooking with insulation in one of the Dwelling Portably books by Bert and Holly Davis. The concept is simple: food is partially cooked, then the pot of food is insulated to hold heat in so the cooking process can continue without flame. The insulation can be as simple as wrapping the pot in blankets and letting it sit for several hours or as complicated as building and insulating a box for the pot to sit in. The technique is old, with evidence of hay boxes dating to the 1800s.

I made my own insulated box from a square foam cooler left behind by folks who stayed in the campground where I was the camp host. I lined the cooker with flexible, reflective material from a foldable solar cooker kit The Lady of the House had lying around in her laundry room. Because I used materials that were unwanted by others, I didn’t have to spend any money on my insulated box.

When I was ready to cook a pot of grains, I measured the appropriate amount of water and grain into my large stainless steel pot. I brought the mixture of water and grain to a rolling boil, then let it boil vigorously for ten minutes. After ten minutes of boiling, I’d close the pot tightly, which was easy because it is actually a pressure cooker with a latch and seal. (I would not go out and buy a brand new pressure cooker to use in an insulated box, but the one I already had is quite suited to this method.) I then put the pot in the insulated box, covered it with a couple of dish towels, and put the lid of the box on tightly. (I often put something heavy–like a jug of water–on top of the lid to hold it down and seal the box as tightly as possible.) If I boiled regular, not parboiled, brown rice and got it into the insulated box by 10 am, it was fully cooked and ready to eat by 4pm.

Alas, when The Man and his dog and all of their wordly possessions moved into my van, the insulated cooker box was a casualty. We had a lot of stuff, and lots of things had to go. The cooker box was nice, but nonessential. The Man made a sort of bag for the pot by taping together pieces of the flexible, reflective solar oven material, but it never worked as well as the box.

Now that The Man has his own rig and I have room in my van again, I’m on the lookout for materials to make a new insulated box. A foam cooler should be fairly easy to find since people discard them frequently. I probably won’t find a foldable solar oven again, but I could line the cooler with newspaper, cardboard, or even old towels. The goal is to fill in as much space in the cooler as possible so the heat can’t escape. Lots of easily found, cheap or free materials can do the job.

I hope you can use some of these ideas to save time and money while you’re living and traveling in your van. You have to eat, so you might as well eat healthy and delicious food. I’m proof that a rubber tramp can eat yummy meals that are nutrituous and don’t cost a fortune.

Blaize Sun has been cooking and eating on the road for almost six year. These methods work for her. They may not work for you. Do what works best for your body, your health, and your life. You know yourself better than Blaize Sun ever will, so cook and eat accordingly.

I took the photo of the cast iron skillet. The image of the book is an Amazon affiliates link. If you click on the links, then do your regular Amazon shopping, I will get a small advertising fee at no cost to you.

Mural Row

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Nolagirl and I were walking on Main Street in Mesa, AZ, looking for the Big Pink Chair. We approached a building at McDonald, on the south side of Main. I saw murals painted in large, shallow alcoves on the east side of the building.

I’ve never seen these before, I said.

The murals show Arizona natural landscapes and other snapshots of the state’s natural scenery.

I love the vivid sun and the way this painting seems to invite the viewer to stop right into those mountains. I don’t know who painted it.

The mural below was painted by Matlock the Artist, as we can see from the stenciled “signature” on the bottom left of the piece below. Matlocktheartist.com seems to be out of commission, but I traced the moniker to Mark Matlock, artist and owner/curator of (possibly defunt) Fragment Gallery in Tucson. The most current information I could find (2015) is that Matlock left Tucson and moved to Mesa.

This larger-than-life rendering of saguaro blossoms is my favorite of the nature scene murals. The desert is extra beautiful when the saguaros are in bloom.

I think it’s great when the artist has an element from one painting invisibly span the empty space between the two murals and pick up in the adjacent painting. I think this technique helps show the relationship between the murals and make them seem less like isolated pieces. In the pieces above and below, you can see how the artist has used this technique with the the tree branch that runs in front of the saguaro and ends up in the top right corner of the mural featuring the young woman.

Only one of these murals includes the human form, in the person of a young woman standing under the phases of the moon. Who is this woman? Who does she represent? Why is she standing under the changing moon? Those are questions I can’t answer.

I also wonder who painted this mural. I can’t see a signature anywhere. Can you?

I don’t see a signature on this mural either, but it reminds me of a small painting on the other side of Main Street, just down from the Smith-O-Lator cookie store.  Perhaps the same anonymous artist created both paintings.

The spines on these cacti look wicked!

The following mural is called Three Riders and was painted in aerosol by Kerry Niemann of Apache Junction, AZ. Niemann

studied painting, drawing, and sculpture at the University of Kansas in the early 1990’s…

Currently, [she is] most interested in drawing the people and places where [she] live[s]…in Apache Junction, including the mountains, rodeos, restaurants, cars, bull riders, spectators, actors, horses. [She] also paint[s] murals of similar subject matter.

I like the juxtaposition here of a very traditional Western scene topped by an abstract representation of the sky. I wonder if the three figures on horses are perhaps riding off into hell.

Chuck Wan signed this mural of larger-than-life birds, but I can’t find any information about him, other than his collaboration with Carlos Mendoza on a mural for sale through Phoenix Center for the Arts.

Anyone know anything about Chuck Wan?

On the other side of the building, where a wide alley bisects the block, we found more murals painted in large shallow alcoves. While the first murals we saw depict scenes of the state’s natural beauty, the second set shows aspects of mid-20th century American Southwest civilization such as advertisements on Route 66 and other highways and byways of a pre-interstate era.

 

I don’t see a signature on this depiction of the Buckhorn Baths sign.

These are all places in Arizona, Nolagirl said in awe.

She was right, according to information I found about these murals in a December 2015 article in the East Valley Tribune. More specifically, the murals depict places in Mesa. The article, “Downtown Murals Evoke Mesa Memories” says,

Murals that depict neon signs on businesses that previously operated in the city [Mesa] have been painted on the west wall of Surf and Ski building at 137 W. Main Street.

According to the East Valley Tribune, Anthony Galto re-created three vintage signs in this mural.

According to the aforementioned East Valley Tribune article, the next mural was painted by Jesse Perry. On his website, Perry says,

Using an abnormally bright color pallet to deliver my New School Pop Art Style, my work is both bold and versatile, often filled with humor and fun loving characters of the Southwest, commonly laced with hidden messages that speak to the idea of unity and community.

Jesse Perry’s website says he painted this mural with spray paint. I love the Arizona sunset sky.

Also featured in the East Valley Tribune article was this mural by Mark Matlock, aka Matlock the Artist. According to the article, only black and white photos of the sign he chose to paint were available ,

 so he had to choose colors for the mural. His desire was to make the mural look like an old post card and look like neon. He used a wash to rub over the final work…

My favorite of the neon sign murals is this one by David “Dski One” Oswoski of Mesa. I like the slightly blurry edges which gives the piece a dreamlike quality. I can imagine being a little kid in the backseat of the family Buick, eyes half closed after a long day of fun and seeing this sign beckoning me to spend the night in one of their clean, comfortable beds.

I was glad to spend some time with these murals; they really help beautify the two walls. It’s nice to have these downtown reminders of Arizona’s colorful commercial past and its fragile natural beauty.

Ideas for Healthy Eating

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The idea for this post came from a Facebook group I’m in. The group is particularly for lady van dwellers, and one of the other women in the group wrote about wanting to eat healthier foods and fewer animal products. Eating healthier is a quest I’m continually on, especially as I grow older. Unfortunately, I’ve led a life of disordered eating. Unfortunately, I love sugars and carbs. Unfortunately, it’s often cheaper to buy over-processed junk food than it is to buy healthy whole foods. But still, I keep trying.

While I’ve never completely eliminated animal products from my diet, over the years I’ve had many friends and comrades who had exclusively vegan diets. I’ve been to my share of vegan potlucks and have eaten many delicious dishes prepared with no animal products. By eating with and cooking for vegans, I’ve learned a few tricks. Today I’ll be writing in general how I cook and eat, but next week’s Wednesday post will include information on ten vegan meals that are easy to prepare even if you live on the road.

I don’t think meals without animal products have to be boring. I love garlic and onions and spices. Readers will notice next week that most of my food prep instructions will begin with sauté an onion. Green, red, yellow, and orange bell peppers are delicious too. I usually use whatever I can get cheapest or free (if I’m in a town where I have a hookup for free food).

black pepper, bowl, clove As for spices, I love basil, marjoram, turmeric, curry, oregano, cumin, chili powder, and rosemary. If you already cook, think about what spices you would use in a dish that includes meat. Making your pasta sauce vegan? You may want to use oregano and whatever other spices are in those little jars marked “Italian seasoning.” Making tacos or burritos with beans instead of ground beef or shredded pork? You may want to add cumin and/or chili powder.  Making chicken-less curry? Substitute tofu or some sort of faux chicken patties for the chicken and use the same spices the recipe calls far.

I also like to use condiments to add flavor to meatless meals. For a spicy kick, I like sriracha sauce, especially the brand with the rooster on the label. For a salty flavor without so much sodium, I like Bragg liquid aminos. Made from non-GMO verified soybeans and purified water, the thin sauce (according to the label) contains “16 essential and non-essential amino acids in naturally occurring amounts.” For extra deliciousness and satisfaction, I love to dribble sesame oil over my food or mash in half an avocado. For a yummy yet indescribable flavor (maybe nutty?) and extra B vitamins, I like to sprinkle nutritional yeast over my meal or make a great “uncheese” sauce. (I’ll post the recipe for the uncheese sauce soon.) For extra nutrition, crunch, and satisfying fat, I like to add nuts (whole, sliced, or pieces of almonds, cashews, walnuts, or pecans) to whatever I’m eating.

When I sauté my onion, garlic, peppers, etc. I use extra virgin, cold pressed olive oil. My understanding is that olive oil is healthier than other oils and that extra virgin, cold pressed is healthier than other varieties of olive oil. I haven’t done a lot of research on oils, so I’d love someone who knows all about them to share all that knowledge in the comments. Bowl Being Poured With Yellow Liquid

All of my tips so far easily apply if one is cooking in the kitchen of a stick-and-bricks home or an RV, over a campfire or on a camp stove. Wherever you cook, you can leave out the meat, use healthy oil, and add flavor with spices and condiments.

Cooking grains can be a little trickier when cooking over a camp stove, especially for folks using one pound propane tanks. Grains can take a long time to cook and the propane in those one pound tanks goes fast. While brown rice is more nutritious than white rice, brown rice takes a lot longer to cook. I use the boil-in-bag kind that only takes ten minutes to cook after the water is boiling, or I use parboiled brown rice. For more convenience (which comes at a higher price), look for totally precooked brown rice. Trader Joe’s has it, and Minute Rice and (I think) Uncle Bens’ offer their own varieties. Minute Rice advertises that their precooked rice can be heated in the microwave, and while that’s true, it can also be added to a pan of beans and/or vegetables and warmed up and ready to eat in a few minutes.

Quinoa (pronounced /ˈknwɑː/ ) cooks as fast as white rice (20 minutes or so), but is much more nutritious. I like to add vegetable bouillon cubes or canned vegetable stock to the cooking water for extra flavor. I eat it the same way I’d eat rice. I add beans and/or tofu and whatever vegetables I’m having with my meal. A friend of mine adds fresh cilantro and lime juice to her quinoa. In any case, the secret to quinoa is to rinse, rinse, rinse it. In the past I often skipped the rinsing to conserve water and complained when my quinoa tasted like dirt. After getting great results after rinsing my quinoa, now I’m a believer.

Round Grilled FoodBeans are a great source of vegan protein. When I lived in a house, I cooked big batches of beans in my slow cooker and froze them in individual portions for later eating. I can’t really do that while van dwelling, so I depend on canned beans. I mostly eat vegetarian or fat-free refried beans, black beans, and garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas). Check the label to make sure your beans don’t have lard, chicken fat or stock, bacon, or other animal products. I try to find options that include only beans, water, and maybe salt. You can rinse your beans for less sodium and reduced gassiness.

Vegan beginners, do not be afraid of tofu, tempeh, and seitan. Tofu and tempeh are made of soy, and seitan is made from wheat. All add protein and texture to a dish. Tofu particularly, seiten to a large extent, and tempeh less so tend to take on the flavors of the foods with which they are cooked. Tofu is particularly good in a sauce. Added to pasta sauce, tofu soaks up all the good flavors of the tomatoes and spices. In a curry sauce, tofu takes on the flavors in a way chicken just can’t. Seiten tends to have the meatiest mouthfeel of the three, although tempeh and extra firm tofu (and any tofu that’s been frozen) can seem meaty too. (Of course, folks going gluten and/or soy free should eat accordingly.)

Don’t feel discouraged if you don’t like new ingredients immediately. I don’t think I was a huge fan of tofu the first time I tried it, but now it’s (for real!) one of my favorite foods. I also had to learn to love nutritional yeast and Bragg liquid aminos. If you don’t like a new food the first time you eat it, give it another try (or two), perhaps prepared in a different way.

Also, try not to feel discouraged if you don’t immediately embrace a vegan or vegetarian diet 100%. At first, Carrots Tomatoes Vegetables and Other Fruitsmaybe strive to prepare every other meal without meat or other animal products. Think about meals you might already like that would be easy to prepare without meat. Could you leave the meat out of pasta sauce and add in extra veggies? (Mushrooms often have a satisfying meatiness to them.) Could you enjoy bean burritos if the beans were prepared without lard or chunks of pork? Could you substitute vegetable broth in a recipe that calls for chicken broth? Do what you can when you can and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t achieve “perfection” (whatever that is).

Next Wednesday day I will share ten ideas for easy healthy vegan meals that I eat regularly when I am living out of my van on the road.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/food-white-seasoning-spices-45844/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/bowl-being-poured-with-yellow-liquid-33783/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/food-restaurant-106972/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/food-salad-healthy-summer-33307/.

Penny Pinchers in Quartzsite, AZ

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The Man and I were in Quartzsite, AZ. We were near the Big Tent, heading to meet our California boss. There’s a gift shop on the Big Tent side of the street, as far from Central Blvd (Highway 95) as possible. The structure housing the gift shop is permanent, but I don’t know if the store is open year round, or only in the height of the winter tourist season. You’ll know you’re there when you see the big rock painted tastefully to say, “Welcome to Tyson Wells.” The building itself has words painted on it as well. The words on the building proclaim, “Cards” “Gifts” “Games” “Ice” “Soda.”

As we walked past the store, I saw a sign alerting me that I could press pennies inside. What? This was my fourth winter stay in Quartzsite, and I was only now discovering the penny squishing machine? Apparently so.

I decided to smash a penny later, when I had more time.

For some reason, I only encounter penny presses in Nevada, Arizona, and the California desert. I’ve smashed pennies in Jerome (AZ), Las Vegas (NV), and Baker (CA). Why have I never seen a penny press in New Mexico?

This is the press…er, pincher…I used to squash a penny for my friend.

All of my penny pressing is on behalf of an old friend of mine. Years ago, she told me she collected smashed pennies, so now I want to squash a penny for her whenever I see one of the machines. My endoeavors may be in vain at this point, but I’ve continued to perservere.

I went back into the gift shop at Tyson Wells one morning a few days later. The place was deserted, save for the very chipper woman working. She was stocking, but she told me to let her know if I needed any help. I said I just wanted to make use of her penny press, which I had already seen standing near the check out counter. She said that was fine and went about her work.

I walked up to the machine and fished two quarters and a penny from my coin purse. I fed them into the machine, then decided on what design to engrave onto the penny. I decided on Hi Jolly’s tomb since it was the most uniquely Quartzsite of the three designs.Then it was time to turn turn turn the crank unitl the penny fell with a clank into the dispenser cup.

I only saw this penny press as I was walking towards to door to leave.

My work was doine. I called out thanks to the woman working and headed to the door.

I stopped in my tracks after about two steps. There was a second penny press right next to the door. I’d never seen two penny presses in one place before (and I’d never seen them called penny pinchers either.) I didn’t press a penny in the second press, but I did take a photo of it.

Now I know Quartzsite, AZ is also on the list of places where pennies can bre pressed.

I took the photos in this post.

Today is Arbor Day

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I was scheduling posts for April when I looked at my paper calendar and saw April 27 was marked “Arbor Day.”

Arbor Day? That’s about trees, right? I thought.

This tree stands somewhere in Southern New Mexico.

I have a lot of photos of trees, I thought. I could do a post on Arbor day and share photos of trees, I thought.

These giant sequoias live in California’s Sequoia National Park.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation,

Arbor Day is an annual observance that celebrates the role of trees in our lives and promotes tree planting and care.
The idea for Arbor Day in the United States originated in Nebraska City, Nebraska
when settler Julius Sterling Morton proposed a resolution to the State Board of Agriculture.
In 1872, the State Board of Agriculture accepted a resolution by J. Sterling Morton “to set aside one day to plant trees, both forest and fruit.” The Board declared April 10 Arbor Day and offered prizes
to the counties and individuals that properly planted the largest number of trees on that day.

These olive trees grow in Phoenix, AZ. The palm tree, it turns out, is not really a tree at all. According to Earth Connection, “Palm trees, of which more than 2,000 species exist, are grouped botanically with grasses, sedges, bamboo, grains, lilies, onions, and orchids.”

As an April 2017 Time article called “This Is Why Arbor Day Is a Thing” explains,

Nebraska was a largely treeless prairie region when, on April 10, 1872, it became the first state to celebrate Arbor Day by planting trees.

A century after the holiday was first celebrated, the Arbor Day Foundation was created to continue encouraging people to plant and love trees, and President Nixon proclaimed National Arbor Day. Now the last Friday in April is National Arbor Day, which is when most but not all states celebrate it.

Evergreens in the snow in the mountains of California.

The USA is not the only country that celebrates trees! According to Wikipedia,

Arbor Day (or Arbour; from the Latin arbor, meaning tree) is a holiday in which individuals and groups are encouraged to plant trees. [1]Today, many countries observe such a holiday. Though usually observed in the spring, the date varies, depending on climate and suitable planting season.

(See the aforementioned article for a long list of countries that celebrate some version of Arbor Day, as well as a summary of what goes down at those celebrations.)

This tree in Northern New Mexico welcomes the night in the spring of 2017.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief history of Arbor Day and these photos of trees. I also hope you can get out there and celebrate Arbor Day by planting one or more trees.

The General Sherman is not only the largest living tree in the known world; it is the largest living creature of any species in the known world.

All of the photos in this post were taken by me.

10 More Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar (Whether You’re On the Road or Not)

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Last Wednesday I shared 10 ways to help stretch your food dollar. I think the tips are good for folks living on the road cash, coins, moneyor in a sticks-n-bricks. I’m not out of ideas, so here are 10 more tips for making the most of your food budget.

#1 Steer clear of fast food. If you’re eating from the regular menu at most restaurants, a meal is usually not inexpensive. Also, we all know fast food is not typically good for our health.

If you do eat fast food (and sometimes on the road it seems unavoidable) try to do so infrequently and stick to the value menu. Of course, McDonald’s has a famous value menu, but so do Taco Bell (their Fiesta Potato Grilled Breakfast Burrito with potato, egg, and cheese and a price of only $1 is my favorite fast food breakfast), Denny’s, Wendy’s and Del Taco. Also, it’s admittedly difficult to resist a $5 large pizza from Little Caesar’s.

If you join a fast food restaurant’s loyalty program via the internet, you can sometimes get email notifications of coupons, discounts, and freebies.

#2 Buy distressed produce after the price has been marked down. In many food stores, bruised, nicked, wilted, or otherwise distressed produce is sold at a deep discount. When you find discounted produce that’s no longer at its peak, think about what you might be able to use it for. Could you make apple sauce or apple butter or pancake topping from mushy apples? Could you cut bruises off vegetables and use the good parts to make soup or stock? Would mashed strawberries still taste delicious in a strawberry shortcake or smoothie? Sometimes reduced produce is on the brink of spoiling and still perfectly fine if you use it TODAY.

baguette, bakery, bread#3 Buy marked down bakery items. Bakery items are often marked down before they pass their freshness date. Many large supermarkets with in-house bakeries have a special area for bakery items being sold at a reduced price. Some towns also have bakery outlets where name brand baked goods are sold off cheaply right before or right after they reach their freshness date.

Don’t go overboard with cheap cookies, cakes, and white bread. These items are usually not super healthy, and you probably don’t really need them. You get the biggest savings by not spending money on things you don’t need. You also save money by maintaining your health. However, for a treat, reduced price bakery items can’t be beat.

#4 Buy scratched and dented cans and items past their “best by” date. There are entire grocery stores dedicated to these types of items. You can also look for the clearance section of individual food stores.

The “sell by,” “best by,” or “expiration” date on packaged food is usually only a suggestion. I have eaten plenty of canned beans, energy bars, and corn chips after the date on the package, and I’ve never been sick. Occasionally items with no preservatives or heavy with nuts or oils might taste rancid, but I don’t usually notice that unless an item is more than three months past the date on the package. If I’m skeptical, I’ll buy just one of the item in question, taste it, then make my decision.

I also get good deals on canned goods that have been banged up. Often items in dented cans are not even “expired.” I avoid cans that are leaking or bulging or open, and I’ve never had a problem and have saved a fortune.

#5 Utilize food pantries. Most towns have at least one food pantry. Some require photo ID, proof of income, and proof of address. Some don’t require anything at all. If the food pantry guidelines say you qualify, you qualify, so you don’t need to feel guilty or ashamed. Food pantries are there to help people in need. If you are in need, utilize what’s there to help you.

#6 Qualify for SNAP benefits. Qualifying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka EBT, aka food stamps) requires jumping through some hoops and sharing lots of personal information but can really help low-income folks buy healthy food.  You can probably apply online.

I feel the same way about SNAP as I do about food pantries: don’t feel guilty or ashamed for using something you qualify for.

#7 Dumpster Dive I once lived in a town with an unlocked dumpster behind a grocery store. My friends and I got so much food out of the trash there. We got enough slightly distressed, but still salvagable produce there to feed ourselves and each other and sometimes strangers many gallons of delicious and nutritious soup. We also got enough junk food to satisfy all our sweet teeth. You probably can’t count on finding food in the trash in every town you roll through, but when you find a good source, you can eat like royalty.

Orange Fruit#8 Trade your labor for food. If you see fruit or nut trees growing in a yard and ready for harvest, ask the person who owns the trees if you can harvest what’s ripe and keep half of what you pick in exchange for your labor. Maybe the owner will say no or look at you like you’re weird. So what? Maybe they’ll agree to share their fresh and healthy food with you if you’re willing to do a little work.

Foraging is related to this idea of eating produce quite literally growing on trees in urban areas. If you’re interested in foraging, check out the Falling Fruit website. The project calls itself

a celebration of the overlooked culinary bounty of our city streets,

and says that while

[o]ur edible map is not the first of its kind…it aspires to be the world’s most comprehensive. While our users contribute locations of their own, we comb the internet for pre-existing knowledge, seeking to unite the efforts of foragers, foresters, and freegans everywhere.

#9 Eat the food people offer you. Say yes if a friend invites you over for a home-cooked meal. Take the box of crackers you family member offers you after trying one and deciding s/he didn’t like it. Again, there’s no shame in taking what is offered to you.

#10 Don’t get tricked into thinking you’re getting a bargain just because everything in the store costs a dollar. Often items I see at Dollar Tree can be had for a cheaper per ounce price at Wal-Mart or a supermarket. Sometimes even the same size item is less expensive elsewhere. Don’t get caught up in an it’s only a dollar frenzy. (I have been caught up in that frenzy many times.) Occasionally I do find a real bargain at the Dollar Tree, like packages of multigrain rice cakes, but typically the food there is over-priced or junk food or over-priced junk food.

What are you tips for eating healthy food while on a tight budget? Please share your best ideas in the comments.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/cash-coins-money-pattern-259165/https://www.pexels.com/photo/bread-food-healthy-breakfast-2436/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/orange-fruit-221105/.

 

In Praise of a Toothbrush

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The student hygienist at the dental hygiene clinic told me I should use an electric toothbrush. I told her I often had no access to electricity because I work part of the year in a remote location in the mountains. She didn’t tell me about battery operated toothbrushes, but I figured it out on my own.

I was in a Wal-Mart a few weeks before Christmas. I was just doing my normal shopping when I remembered the dental hygience student telling me about electric toothbrushes. I decided to see what the store had to offer. I walked over to the toothbrush aisle, and there was an entire endcap of Arm & Hammer Spinbrushes priced at just $5 each. Oh! That wasn’t too expensive.

ARM & HAMMER Spinbrush Classic Clean Battery Toothbrush
In addition to the Arm & Hammer battery operated brushes, I saw some made by Oral B, and a few from the Wal-Mart Equate brand. Unsurprisingly, the Equate brushes were the least expensive, but I wondered if they ware made as well or would work as well as the name-brand brushes. Even after reading the packages of the different brushes, I couldn’t determine any significant differences. I decided to splurge a little and go for a $5 brush. I grabbed an Arm & Hammer Spinbrush in a color I liked (hot pink) and called it good.

That night I brushed my teeth with the new brush. My teeth felt clearner, slicker, but perhaps I was imagining the difference. Maybe I was experienceing some sort of toothbrush placebo effect.

One night The Man was at my van as I brushed my teeth with my new, powerful brush. I guess I’d been brushing a while because he told me, You’re going to wear your teeth to nubs if you keep at it with that thing. I had to laugh through my toothpaste.

I knew the real proof of the brush’s success would be the plaque score assigned to my teeth when I returned to the dental hygience clinic.

After the preliminaries (checking my blood pressure, checking my neck and face for lumps and bumps, asking about any changes in my medical history in the last month), the student hygienist smeared the substance on my teeth that would make the plaque show pink. Then she counted the pink surfaces of my teeth and used a mathematical formula to calculate my plaque score. After using the Spinbrush for about two weeks, my plaque score dropped from 39% to 16%. (At a subsequent visit after using the Spinbrush for three months, my plaque score was 20.5%)

Before I brought the Spinbrush, I wondered how often I would have to replace the batteries. The batteries that were included with the brush when I purchased it did not last very long, maybe two weeks of brushing twice a day. I replaced those batteries with super cheap batteries from Dollar Tree, and they lasted slightly longer. When I had to replace the batteries a third time, I splurged on Duracells and have gotten much better (longer lasting) results. Many less-expensive items really are as good as their more expensive counterpoints, but I’ve learned with batteries you really do get what you pay for.

If I lived somewhere year round with electricity, I would get an electric toothbrush I could plug in and charge, thus eliminating the waste of dead batteries. Maybe I’ll eventually get a plug-in toothbrush for when I do have access to electricity and just use the battery powered one when I’m in the woods. For now, I’ll continue to buy batteries for my Arm & Hammer Spinbrush.

You Got This

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When I’m in the right city, I have my teeth cleaned–for free–at a school for dental hygienists. The students are well supervised, and I feel like I’m getting complete and thorough dental care. Once a year x-rays are taken of my teeth, and there’s a dentist on staff who examines my mouth and consults with the student whenever necessary throughout the process.

I hadn’t been in the city for quite a while, and the last dental appointment I’d paid for had left me feeling traumatized, so my teeth hadn’t been cleaned in over a year. As soon as I was close to the city, I made an apppointment for a cleaning at the dental hygiene school.

One of the drawbacks of getting my teeth cleaned at the school is never being able to form a relationship with my health care provider. Ove the last six years, probably as many students have worked on my mouth, and I’ve never seen any of them more than twice. I don’t remember the names of any of them.

The skills of students vary. I’ve had my teeth cleaned by students just weeks away from graduation; as expected, folks who’ve been at it a while do a better job and by better job, I mean, cause less pain.The most recent student who worked on my mouth must have just started her training when I met her in December 2017.

Her name (not her real name) was Pansy. She seemed very young, like teenager young, which I guess she could have been if she had started training to be a dental hygienist the moment she graduated from high school. More likely, she was in her early 20s. She was pleasant as our first visit got under way, but I was a nervous wreck.

Dental appointments make me very anxious. I’ve had a string of dental problems in the last several years, so I worry about what’s going to be found when someone starts poking around in my mouth. Will I have a cavity? Is a tooth rotting away? Will I need a root canal? Is someone going to freak out about my impacted wisdom teeth or the cyst around the roots of the one tooth or the evidence of my once fractured jaw? Will someone recommend a treatment I can’t afford?

As our first session played out, I learned Pansy was slow and not very gentle. The x-ray process was painful because she shoved large equipment into my small mouth. (In the past, an instructor had come around to give my student hygienist tips on making me more comfortable during x-rays, but that day no one came by to give Pansy advice.) Once back in our cubicle, Pansy used the tiny handheld mirror to reach into my mouth and pull my soft mouthparts away from my teeth. She did the pulling with gusto; it felt decidedly unpleasant. When she had my mouth adequately opened, she rested the mirror on my upper gums, which caused additional discomfort. As to be expected, the pain increased when she started poking at my gums with pointy instruments. To make it all worse, Pansy was excruciatingly slow in her every process. I was in her chair for more than three hours during my initial appointment with her. Despite being on time for my 8am appointment, I wasn’t sure if she’d be finished with me when her class was dismissed at 11:45.

One of the steps Pansy had to complete was calculating my plaque score. She stained my teeth so the plaque showed up red, then documented on a paper chart every tooth surface with plaque on it. I peeked at the chart and saw there was a mathematical formula used to calculate the patient’s plaque score. Pansy crunched the numbers and gave me my result: 39%. This score was higher than the dental powers-that-be thought it should be, so Pansy began interrogating me.

Did I floss?

Yes.

How often?

At least once a day.

Could I show her my technique?

Sure.

She handed me a length of dental floss, and I demonstrated my flossing technique.

Your technique is pretty good, she conceeded. She seemed perplexed about how to solve this plaque problem.

Have you ever thought about using an electric toothbrush? she asked.

I said no.

Why not? she demanded.

I should have said, because no one ever suggested it to me, which was the truth. Instead I said, because I spend a lot of my time in places with no electricity, which was also the truth.

Have you ever thought about getting a power generator? Pansy asked me.

I busted out laughing. I thought she was joking. I looked over at her and she was looking at me expectantly, completely serious.

(Later, when I discovered battery powered spin brushes, I wondered why she hadn’t suggested one of those instead of going directly to a noisy, costly solution.)

When it came time to make our next appointment, Pansy offered me a date, recanted her offer, then offered me a different date. When I said that date was fine (although a month away), she didn’t have an appointment card to give to me after writing down the date and time. She ended up using the school’s regular business card and writing the date of my appoitment on the back.

Tilt Photography of Calendar Schedule Number 18The next day the clinic’s office manager called me saying Pansy had not given me an appointment and tried to give me one on the date Pansy had first mentioned. When I explained Pansy had already given me an appointment for a different date, the office manager said the student hadn’t put any information about my appointment in the system. I assured her I did have an appointment and we said goodbye. She called me later and left a message saying she’d tracked down the student and confirmed the appointment. Now I was in the system.

I spent the next month dreading my upcoming appointment with Pansy. It was going to hurt, and it was going to take forever, I knew. On several occasions I considered canceling the appointment. In the end I stuck with it becasue free trumped painful and inconvenient.

On the mornig of my second appointment with Pansy, I arrived a the appointed hour. I was not happy to see her. I couldn’t tell how she felt about seeing me.

She did seem glad when she calculated my plaque score and found it had dropped a whopping 23%! I told her I’d gotten a battery powered toothbrush and it really seemed to be making a difference. Thanks for the good advice, Pansy!

At on point in the procedure, I thought I detected Pansy shaking. I figured I must have imagined it until I heard her whisper, You got this. My heart melted for the woman. Here she was, trying to get schooling so she could get a decent job, and she was nervous enough to shake. I don’t know if she even realized the pep talk she was giving herself was audible to me. Maybe she thought she’d whispered You got this in the privacy of her own brain. In any case, I bucked up and tried not to complain so she could do what needed to be done. I knew we both wanted to get out of there.

I saw Pansy once more. She had me on an every-three-month cleaning schedule, which was ok with me since I wasn’t paying for anything. What a difference three months of practice had made for Pansy. She appeared much less nervous and much more confident. When her instructor asked questions about her work, Pansy answered immediately and confidentally instead of thinking for a long time then answering softly. She worked at a brisker pace, and I would have been out of there in under three hours if the instructor hadn’t been delayed when Pansy was ready for the woman to check her work. She did still wield the mirror like a pry bar, but I guess no one is perfect.

Pansy told me she graduates in December 2018. I think with another nine months of practice, she’s certain to make a fine hygienest.

 

Images courtesy of https://pixabay.com/en/dentist-space-treat-teeth-3069416/, https://pixabay.com/en/floss-oral-dental-hygiene-care-668215/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/tilt-photography-of-calendar-schedule-number-18-60032/, and https://pixabay.com/en/graduation-graduation-cap-2394130/.

 

 

10 Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar (Whether You’re On or Off the Road)

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1 Us Bank NoteThe Man is always amazed when I come out of the supermarket and tell him how little I paid for the food in the cart. I get a big kick out of cooking healthy and delicious meals on the cheap. The Man said I should share my money saving ways with my readers, so today I present 10 tips on stretching your food dollar, whether you live in a van, RV, apartment, or house.

#1 Don’t waste food. Don’t buy something if you’re not dedicated to eating it. If you buy food, eat it, even if you don’t particularly like it. Being adventurous is great, but throwing away food is a waste of money.

Often, not wasting food requires planning. You have to eat fresh food before it spoils, which can be tricky if an item is distressed or if you’re on the road and have only a cooler or no refrigeration at all. Before I plan a meal, I take stock of what fresh food I have and what’s likely to go bad in the next day or two. I cook what I’m most in danger of losing.

#2 Be creative with what you can buy cheaply. One time I encountered whole pinto beans marked down to less than 30 cents a can. I don’t particularly like pinto beans with rice or whole pinto beans on burritos, so I turned the beans into my version of refried beans. They were delicious!

If you find something on super sale, think of all the different ways you can consume the item, especially if you have to use it up fast. Maybe you don’t want to eat six cartons of plain yogurt, but maybe you can eat some with berries and crunchy cereal, use another portion in your pancake recipe, and throw the rest in the blender with other ingredients to make smoothies.

#3 Eat what’s cheap, not necessarily what you’re in the mood for. I finally had an oven, so I really wanted to bake a pizza at home. I picked out a jar of pizza sauce and thought about toppings. I knew I had a can of olives (bought for 50 cents at a scratch and dent store) in the cupboard, so I tossed a can of mushrooms into my cart, and figured I could round things out with half a chopped onion. Then I found the store’s cart of reduced canned goods. As I rooted through I found a can of pasta sauce marked 49 cents that I thought would work just as well as something labeled “pizza sauce” (I was right—it worked great) and a can of asparagus spears for 79 cents which became the delicious splurge that made the pizza extra special.

The lesson here is that if I’d had my heart set on artichoke hearts for the pizza, I would have either spent a lot more money, or I would have felt disappointed and lamented my life of poverty. Instead, I got a good deal on something delicious. Also? If I hadn’t found the asparagus spears, the pizza as I originally envisioned it would have still been mighty tasty.

Booth, branding, business#4 Watch for sales.  Check out weekly sales online before you shop or read the sale flyer at the front of the store. You can also just pay attention to prices while you shop. If you see a bargain on something you would use anyway, stock up.

#5 Buy store brands. Store brands typically cost less than name brands and taste as good. (Some people may taste a difference between name brand items and store brand items. I typically do not, except for ‘Nilla Wafers. I don’t know what it is, but ‘Nilla Wafers taste markedly better than any generic vanilla wafer I’ve ever tried.)

#6 Remember that convenience foods typically cost more. As much as possible, cook from scratch. How much time are you really saving by using a cornbread mix or precooked rice? And what do you have more of, time or money? One of the reasons most of us live on the road is so we can have lots of free time. Often more free time means less money. When it comes to cooking, you can often use your free time to save money. If you’re living in a sticks-and-bricks, maybe saving money will mean you have to work less or you can get on the road sooner, if that’s what you’re hoping for.

#7 Don’t eat more than you need to. I frequently make the costly decision to eat when I’m not really hungry. I often overeat because food is delicious and comforting. However, eating reasonable portions means you’re getting more meals for the money you spent on food.

#8 If you’re in a town with a senior center, check into the lunch program for seniors. Even small towns out West offer these lunches. They usually cost $2 to $3 for a complete meal. Age requirements to qualify for the inexpensive meal vary, but I’ve heard of people as young as 50 being considered “seniors” and eligible for the lunches. Younger people are considered “guests,” and their cost per meal is usually around $7

I’m still too young to eat cheap senior lunches, so I’ve never participated. From what I’ve heard, they can often be a good place for socializing and meeting people. Musicians often perform at one senior lunch program I know of in a small southern New Mexico town. Another new program in a small southern Arizona town is promising Bingo.

#9 Investigate free meal options. Maybe the town you’re in has a Food Not Bombs chapter that serves free vegan food in the park. Maybe there’s a Catholic Worker group that serves free meals like in Las Vegas, NV.  Call churches, Catholic Worker Houses, infoshops, radical bookstores, food banks, social service offices, and homeless shelters and outreach programs and ask how to get free meals where you are.

Assorted-color Box Lot on Rack#10 Sign up for supermarket loyalty cards to get discounts, coupons, and sale prices. Supermarkets owned by the same parent company have different names in different parts of the country, but one discount card is good at all of them. I typically shop at stores owned by Kroger, and I save money by using the loyalty card.

If you don’t want a loyalty card, ask the cashier if s/he has a loyalty card s/he can scan for you so you get the sale prices. There was a time in my life when I did not have the ability to keep track of a supermarket loyalty card, so I often asked the cashier if s/he had a card to use for me. I was seldom told no.

I hope these tips have helped you think about ways to stretch your food dollar according to your own personal needs and desires. Want more money saving tips? I’ll offer up 10 More Ways to Stretch Your Food Dollar next Wednesday.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/1-us-bank-note-47344/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/booth-branding-business-buy-264636/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-color-box-lot-on-rack-811101/.

Mural on the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum

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In the spring of 2016, I lived briefly in Mesa, Arizona while working nearby. One afternoon after my money job was over for the day, I went downtown to explore the public art. I saw art depicting a Big Pink Chair, a girl reading a book, and a toddler feeding ducks. I really appreciate public art and the way it levels the playing field by allowing everyone from all socio-economic levels to experience and enjoy what others have created.

As I passed the Mesa Arts Center, I saw a huge mural on the wall of the Center’s Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum. I didn’t realize at the time that the mural was brand spanking new.

When I did some research on the mural, I got a lot of information about it from a Phoenix New Times article by Lynn Trimble called “El Mac on His New Two-Story Mural at Mesa Arts Center, Inspiration, and Collaboration.”

  • The mural was painted by El Mac, “one of the world’s most noted street artists” who has ties to the Phoenix area but now lives in LA.
  • The woman depicted in the mural is an old friend of the artist.
  • “The mural was done completely with aerosol enamel paint, and a specific type of cap that helps give his work its characteristic pattern of circles and lines” and was completed in March of 2016.

I love the gentle beauty of this mural and the way the color of the rose pops against the dark contours of the woman’s features. I love seeing a woman of color (the model is originally from Guatamala) looming larger-than-life over museum patrons. It’s a lovely piece, and I think it adds some street cred to a part of town which could easily be mistaken to be primarily for white folks.

I took the photos in this post.