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Improving Gertie: the kitchen

Range hood

The Lazy Daze range hood had two problems: the fan and the light. The fan was so painfully raucous that I couldn't stand to run it. And the light—a tiny, pathetic peanut of a bulb—was so dim that on several occasions I'd actually left it burning when leaving the rig. (Fortunately its power consumption is correspondingly small, so the house batteries weren't drained.)Range hood More to the point, it was so dim as to be useless when cooking. But I still had one of the 20W surface-mount halogen lights left, just waiting for a use...and this was it. I mounted the light inside the range hood, where it floods the stove top with brilliant white light.

And I replaced the noisy fan with a 12V "muffin fan" from Radio Shack (#273-238) that doesn't move quite as much air, but does so with about one quarter the old fan's noise level. The only problem with this fan is that it doesn't blow hard enough to push open the anti-draft flap on the outside vent, so I'm going to have to rig a pull chain to manually open that flap. A small price to pay for peace and quiet!

Doorstops

Kitchen cupboards

In the kitchen I used doorstops—the kind that resemble tightly coiled springs—mounted upside-down on the cabinet shelves as a way to keep the stacks of dishes from sliding around, yet still make them easy to pull out. I picked up this idea from Bob Livingston's excellent "Ten-Minute Tech: The Book", a highly recommended collection of ingenious and useful tips for RVers.

Toolkit

I have a little folding tool kit that I use frequently for everyday work in Gertie. I used to keep it in my "Tools" drawer, but then I noticed that the kitchen cupboard over the sink had some unused space behind the door, because the upper shelf was set back three or four inches. So I mounted the tool kit inside the cabinet door. It takes up very little room when closed. When open, 1/2" squares of Dual Lock keep the lid and fold-out tray anchored against the door. (Gotta remember to pick up some more Dual Lock at Target—it really is great stuff!) This puts my most-used tools right at eye level and easily accessible...no more rummaging in drawers.

Pantry closet

Pantry closet

The single project that made the biggest difference in Gertie's kitchen was this one: I added a 78" high x 18" wide x 4" deep pantry closet to Gertie in such a way that it's barely noticeable, yet adds 12 shelf feet of storage space. It's a simple yet brilliant design that I can't take credit for—I copied it from another Lazy Daze motorhome.

The pantry closet was fairly simple to build, using 1x4 oak and 1/2" oak plywood. The whole project is described in detail (including plans) on a separate pantry closet page. Take a look—you may end up wanting to build one of these for your own rig!

Slow cooking with no electricity

Here's another one that has nothing to do with organizing, but it's a neat RVing idea. Lots of people like Crock-Pots—those electric-powered slow cookers that let you simmer a stew or soup all day. But they use 120V AC, which many RVs still don't have. Gertie has AC aplenty thanks to four house batteries and a 2,000W inverter...but still, who wants to use it up unnecessarily? Fortunately, my friend (and Gertie's previous owner) Judie tipped me off to an elegant device, the Nissan Thermal Cooker, that does the work of a Crock-Pot but requires no electricity at all!

Nissan Thermal Chef

The Thermal Cooker is basically a huge wide-mouth thermos. It holds 5 quarts (4.5 liters) in a heavy stainless steel inner pot that can be used on the range or in the oven. The inner pot slips into a stainless steel outer liner that is double-walled and vacuum-insulated, and will keep the inner pot's contents simmering for a l-o-n-g time...overnight, for example.

The first dish I made was black bean soup. I dropped the ingredients into the inner pot, brought them to boiling on my range top and boiled for five minutes. Then I slipped the inner pot into the outer pot, closed and latched the insulating lid. Six hours later I checked the temperature. It was still 182° F.! Another three hours went by and I checked again. After a total of nine hours, the temperature was 162°—a good twenty degrees above the "danger point" of 140° F. And the soup was very well cooked and exceedingly tasty. (For another good soup using the Thermal Cooker, see my cream of broccoli with cheddar recipe.)

This gadget's only drawback is its initial cost: the least expensive price I was able to find was over a hundreds dollars. But...it's very well made, and there is nothing to go wrong (unlike a Crock-Pot), so it should last forever...and it uses no energy! You can start a dish in the morning (remember, it only takes five minutes of boiling), drive all day and have a tasty stew when you stop for dinner, all with zero energy consumption after the initial boil. Boondockers take note...this is a good way to conserve propane! (The outer container also makes an excellent ice bucket, should you have the need. Things stay cold in it just as long as they stay hot.)

Handblender

The amazing handblender

Here's another kitchen item I've found invaluable: a a Braun Handblender (sometimes referred to as a "stck blender"). It looks kind of like a big version of those little battery-powered swizzle sticks you used to see in the Johnson Smith catalog—but boy, does it pack a wallop! With a 160W AC motor, this slender tube is every bit as powerful as the Oster blender that sits on my counter at home, yet it's only a foot long and a scant two inches in diameter, so it stores anywhere...perfect for RVing. No fragile jar, either, because—this is what's really cool about the handblender—you simply shove the thing down into any container and squeeze the trigger switch.

Here's an example of where the handblender is invaluable: making cream soups or sauces. I used to make soups such as cream of broccoli in a big five-quart pot on the stove. To achieve a perfectly smooth, creamy consistency, I'd transfer a quart of hot liquid at a time into my Oster blender, blend it, transfer the results to a third container...and then when I'd finished blending all the soup, pour it all back into the original pot for more simmering. Talk about laborious! And pouring all that boiling soup back and forth was risky business. Now I do it the easy way: I simply use the handblender to blend the soup right in the cooking pot while it's still simmering on the stove.

The handblender is a lot easier to clean than a conventional blender's jar-and-blades assembly—just rinse the business end briefly in the sink. Just be sure you get a good-quality model—I've seen underpowered, cheap imitations selling for twenty bucks or so. I recently upgraded from a 160W Braun MR-405 (which I consider the minimum acceptable power) to a 400W Braun MR5550MBC HC Multiquick Professional. It wasn't so much that I needed the extra power, but the 5550 comes with an ice crusher, wire whisk and two chopper jars, so it's able to take on some food-prcessor functions. (It doesn't slice like a food processor, though.) It takes a minute or two at most to make superb pesto!

Toasting

When I lived in a condo, I used my toaster oven almost daily to toast sandwiches and reheat leftovers (especially pizza, which tends to get soggy in a microwave oven). But I had to give that up when I went full-time in my first motorhome, Gertie, because there just wasn't room for it in a 22' coach.

After I got Skylark and had a little more living space, I went shopping for a compact toaster oven, and found a really small one in Walmart for only $18. Well, it looked small in the store... but when I brought it back to the rig, it magically enlarged to twice its size as soon as I walked in the door. (Things have a way of doing that when you live in an RV!) I tried several locations in my kitchen, but no matter where I put it, it was way too big. I ended up giving it away.

Toastation

Several years went by. Then my friend Judie showed me her Hamilton-Beach Toastation. It's a combination popup toaster and toaster oven that's only seven inches from front to back—little more than half the depth of most toaster ovens. Yet it has a 6" x 9" baking tray that can hold two individual pizzas, and a 1.5" wide toaster slot on top that can accommodate anything from two slices of bread to a split bagel. A lever selects between oven and popup toaster modes; when the lever is set to "OVEN," a metal shutter closes the slot on top.

The Toastation fits very nicely on the kitchen counter next to my stove, in an area that I wasn't really using because it's back by the window. (Judie keeps hers under the dinette table, on a shelf her husband built.) It's perfect for a small- to medium-sized RV.

Here's a tip for making the Toastation work even better. That slot at the top isn't terribly well sealed when in oven mode, and I noticed a fair amount of hot air escaping. So I cut a 4" x 12" piece from a silicone rubber baking sheet—just big enough to cover and seal that slot when laid on top. The Toastation bakes faster and more evenly this way. I used the rest of the silcone rubber sheet to make a liner for the baking pan, so spills don't get baked on and cleanup is easy.

Protecting the carpet

Kitchen floor

Most modern RVs have vinyl floor covering in the kitchen area, for the same reason most homes do: to make it easy to clean up food spills. But Gertie has wall-to-wall shaggy brown carpeting throughout, including in front of the sink and stove. I could have cut away part of the carpeting and installed self-stick tiles, but it would have been a big job and hard to do perfectly. Instead, I bought a $30 chair mat from Staples—heavy, stiff but flexible plastic with thousands of cleats on the underside to make sure it stays in place. I cut it to size and it has worked beautifully. Note that this is not the flimsy clear plastic runner material sold by Camping World and others! This chair mat material is tough, thick and can really take a beating.

Before

Access to the water pump

The way Gertie was built, the only access to the water pump was by pulling out the bottom kitchen drawer and reaching in through a small (8" x 6") opening, past the center support rail for the drawer—an opening that wasn't large enough to get both hands through, or one hand and a flashlight. Although I haven't needed to do any work on the water system yet, I could see that if and when I did, I'd be lying on the floor trying to work one-handed through a small hole and around that center rail, while holding a flashlight in my mouth and trying to see what I was doing. There had to be a better way.

Door open Door closed

A large empty area on the side of the same cabinet set me to thinking. I cut a 9" x 9" hole with my saber saw and mounted a door over it, providing ready access to the pump and its associated plumbing. There's plenty of room to see and work through this opening—and of course you can always remove the bottom drawer and get a hand in that way too, if necessary. I lined the access door with sound-absorbing foam to reduce the pump's noise.

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