Tag Archives: camp stove

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.

10 Things You Might Want to Know About Van Organization

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I’ve learned a few things about van organization in the last 3+ years (and the last 3+ months). I wish I’d known the following things before I started life as a van dweller. If you’ve not yet started a life of van dwelling, you may want to contemplate these things before you begin. If you’re already van dwelling, well, it’s never to late to learn something new, right?

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This photo shows how I use binder clips to attach things to decorative wood strips.

#1 If you have an old-school conversion van, look for anything decorative you can rip out to free up a little more room. In my van, the first thing to go was the last captains chair in the back. I can’t believe it took me over a year to rip out the pieces of wood housing cup holders and ashtrays (which I couldn’t see, much less use, because of the tubs and drawers pushed up against them). By ripping out those useless, stained pieces of wood, I gained six to eight inches, which is immense to a van dweller. BUT before you start ripping things out, try to imagine how you could use the decorative touches that are there. I use binder clips to hang things from flat strips of wood that maybe looked nice in 1992 when the van was new.

#2 If you live alone in a van, you may not need a double bed. If you have a bench seat in the back, the bed it folds down into will likely not be very comfortable unless you top it with several inches of memory foam or something similar. You might be better off pulling out the bed that came in the van and putting in something smaller, unless you’re holding out hope of getting laid. You’ll have to decide if you want more bed space or more space for stuff. (Of course, you could also store things on the double bed–I’ve definitely gone that route.)

#3 Your bed does not have to be built strong as a bunker. Sure, you want your bed to be sturdy, but My Rock Guy proved to be brilliant when he built my bed with no attached parts. When it comes time to vacuum back there, I can remove and replace all the parts quickly, without help. I can also move the bed easily if I want to try a new floor plan.

#4 Underbed storage is really helpful. I suggest putting your bed as far off the floor as possible while still being able to sit up without hitting your head. Store things you use less often under the bed.

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This photo shows both my underbed storage and the dishpan full of books wedged under there. Yes, that’s a paper cutter to the left of the dishpan full of books. Doesn’t everyone travel with a paper cutter under the bed?

#5 Containers typically need covers. Baskets may be super cute, but without a cover, the stuff inside is likely to end up on the floor. (My one exception was a plastic dishpan full of books  wedged under my bed. I’ve since bought a tub with a lid to put those books in, not because the books were ending up all over the floor, but because I needed the tub to lift my sloping bed.)

#6 I resisted for two years, but I find drawers really are easier to live with than using 18 gallon tubs for storage. Having to move the top tub to get to the bottom tub was a perpetual pain in my ass. Finding a place to set the top tub was often nearly impossible in my already overcrowded van. Locating an item that had settled to the bottom of an 18 gallon tub was usually an exercise in frustration. Yes, plastic drawers are stupidly expensive, but I think they make my life easier.

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This is my camp stove, set up in the van on a plastic tub for cooking. Usually my laptop backpack is on top of this tub, but the backpack is easy enough to move when it’s time to cook. When I’m cooking indoors, I always make sure a window is open. I’m also careful to keep flammables away from flame.

#7 You will probably want a flat surface in the van for cooking. Even if you usually cook outside, there will likely come a time when it’s rainy or too cold or the wind is blowing at gale force or you just can’t bring yourself to put on pants and you want (or need) to cook inside (even if “cooking” is simply heating water for instant Ramen). At such times, life is much easier if there is a flat surface on which you can set up your camp stove.

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This photo shows bags, jewelry, and my sun hat hanging from shower curtain hooks that I have wedged in between the wall of the van and decorative wood.

#8 Wall space can be utilized by hanging as much as possible. (This is another good tip from My Rock Guy. He says when he lived in vans, he stored his clothes in duffel bags, which he hung.) If my shower curtain hook method doesn’t work for you, you can figure out something else that will.

#9 Many people who live in small spaces have a rule that every item they own must have two purposes. This rule has never really worked for me. I can quickly name ten important things in my van that only have one use (sunhat, ice chest, stove, propane bottles, heater, Luci light, screwdriver, pee bucket, cast iron skillet, sandals…you get the idea…) I understand the reasoning behind this rule: you don’t want to haul around a bunch of stuff you don’t need. But I don’t think the “two use” rule is actually very helpful.

#10 You are probably not going to get your van arranged in the most efficient and aesthetically pleasing way on the first try. Trial and error will probably be involved. Maybe you’ll decide I’m all wrong and drawers don’t work nearly as well as tubs. Maybe you’ll decide the wheels on your ice chest take up too much space. (I took the wheels off my ice chest last month, after living with them in the way for over a year. I thought it would be a hassle, so I didn’t even try for the longest time. Taking them off turned out to be really easy.) Maybe you’ll decide you only need two pairs of pants and two t-shirts, so you only need one medium drawer instead of three large one. I suggest you give yourself permission to make mistakes, change your mind, and try new things.

Bonus! #11 It may go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. You’ll probably save money if you shop at thrift stores and garage sales before you buy brand new things. If you’re in a town with a Habitat for Humanity Restore, look there for household items that might work in your van. Have patience. If you can, give things a chance to show up cheap or free before you rush out and buy new stuff at full price.

I took all the photos in this post.

Coleman Triton Series 2-Burner Stove, 22,000 BTUs