Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Cold Weather Cooking in a Tall Teardrop

RTTC Polar Bear. No back galley.
My Rustic Trails Polar Bear tiny trailer is a unique style of teardrop--if I don't offend teardrop purists by even applying the term teardrop.

  • It is tall, tall enough to stand up in (even if you are six feet tall).
  • There is no galley in the back of the trailer. That space is utilized for standing area inside the front of the living space.
  • For teardrop purists, the floor area is not 4x8 but 5x10.
These fundamental characteristics allow for me to cook inside my RTTC Polar Bear tiny trailer; they also apply to the shorter RTTC models (Papa Bear, Grizzly, Kodiak), although some sitting and hunching over would be involved.

I prefer cooking outside; indeed, I prefer moving as much of my camping experience outside as possible. However, a main reason for buying a tiny trailer was to extend the camping season and to not cancel or shorten camping trips because of heat, cold, humidity, precipitation, bugs, wind, or other factors. We have portable camp tables for setting up our outdoor kitchen, and the outdoor experience is quite enjoyable.

Front counter and table.

The extremes of weather are providing learning opportunities for us, though. My last camping trip involved a couple of days of wind, temperatures in the teens, and blowing snow, which provided a perfect chance to try cooking indoors. I found that cooking in my tiny trailer is manageable, even though not as much fun as cooking outside, where I have more elbow room.

Our  outside table from REI

The Joy of Boiling Water

We bought a Cuisinart Tea Maker as our first electric appliance purchase for the Green Goddess, which allows us to, of course, heat water for tea but also allows us to boil water for instant oatmeal for breakfast. It can be also used for muesli or creamed cereals. Sometimes for dinner I boil water for an instant cup of noodles, to which I usually add some couscous, nuts, and raisins.

Toaster Oven: Heat While You Cook

Camping in a snow storm allowed me to use our toaster oven inside to bake vegetables with feta cheese. The basic recipe is chop veggies; mix with olive oil, Herbs de Provence, and feta; and bake. Usually I add the feta toward the end of the baking so it doesn't overcook.

I also used the toaster oven inside to--you got it!--toast bagels. Bagels, cream cheese, and jam with tea make a great meal without a lot of rigamarole.

Induction Burner: a Solid Addition

Other RTTC owners endorsed an induction burner, so my wife and I decided to add that to our camping appliances. I've found the unit to be useful both inside and outside. Outside, since the magnetism heats the metal pot, wind doesn't blow the heat away like it can with an electric heating coil or with a propane flame. It works quite well, sending out a plume of steam into the cold air. Inside, I've found the unit heats quickly and cools quickly, which allows me to minimize the time the unit has to be out and taking up space.

Instapot for Insta Meals

I've only used our Instapot pressure cooker a couple of times to make a dish called kitcherie, a stew composed of split mung beans and a grain, such as rice or millet, and curry. This computerized pressure cooker is really great for a one-pot meal. There is very little steam that is put into the air, and the clean up is just the one interior stainless steel container. Pressure cooking not only takes less time, but the Instapot allow for programming when the cooking will begin and for warming mode after the cooking is completed.

One Thing at a Time

I've found that the most important thing in cooking inside that tiny little trailer is to keep organized, and by that I mean to do one thing, clean up, and then go on to the next step. There is just too little space for setting pots aside to clean later or for leaving vegetables out while moving to the next stage of cooking. For instance, when steaming vegetables, I prep and then put all the prepping materials away before getting the induction burner out of the storage area beneath the camper seat.

Dealing with Moisture

I was concerned, especially when steaming vegetables, that the moisture would collect inside of the trailer and become a problem. To minimize this, I cooked on the table beneath the overhead vent, instead of cooking on the front counter. I opened the vent quite a bit and turned up the fan speed. The side windows were cracked about an inch, but I found that was not enough and ended up opening each window about four inches. When I did this, the rpms on the fan actually increased, indicating greater air flow. I also monitored the movement of the rising steam and saw that with windows open wider, the steam moved more directly up to the vent rather than circulating through the trailer.

Dirty Dishes? Paper, Please

Knowing I was going to have some inclement weather on my last trip, I made sure I had paper plates, bowls, and paper towels. I didn't bother with disposable flatware or cups, feeling those would be easy to wash. This worked out well. I cut vegetables on the paper plate I'd be using to eat on. I used paper bowls or a single large insulated stainless steel bowl for holding prepped items. The bowl is about the size of two regular meal bowls, so it works well for single pot meals, even though it adds one item to wash.

Electricity Safety: Don't Overload the System

I sure hope everyone reads enough of this article to read this warning. It's easy with these appliances to pull more wattage than your system can take. My cord from the campground hookup to the trailer is rated for 1850 watts. I can't find what the hookup from the trailer is rated for, nor for the power strip that leads from off that. Basically, I just use one appliance at a time. My oil heater and tea pot both pull up to 1,500 watts. The induction burner pulls a maximum of 1,600 watts. The toaster oven pulls 1,100 watts. I cannot, therefore, use the heater and teapot at the same time or the induction burner and the toaster oven at the same time. When cooking outside, I use separate power cords and campground hookup plugins, which helps. When I bake vegetables and feta and also steam greens, I first bake the vegetables, as they will stay warm in the oven for a while. Then I turn off the oven and then turn on the induction burner and steam the vegetables. In the cold weather, I've unplugged the air conditioner and utilize the plugs on the main cord and plug-in system beneath the front counter; that way I can cut out the final strip plug mounted above the counter. These appliance pull quite a bit of electricity, so do the math.

Bottomline: Is Cooking in a Tiny Trailer a Viable Option?

Cooking outside is the best option.
The short answer to the above question is "yes." The longer answer is that yes, cooking in a tiny trailer is possible and even preferable to cooking out in extreme weather. However, it turns out that cooking in cold weather--in the temperatures in the teens--isn't all that bad if one is dressed properly and approaches the whole camping thing with the right attitude. This is why, of course, the traditional teardrop trailer has the galley in the back. Raise the hatch, which also functions as a roof, and the kitchen is open. Driving rain or snow or sand quickly lessens the joy, based on my small outside camp-cooking experience. My Polar Bear provides me one extra option, not one I plan to use as the routine cooking experience, but one that is available on a now and then basis when I just don't feel like getting soaked with rain or frozen with sleet or sandblasted.

I'm interested in the experiences and solutions of other tiny trailer campers. I know I'm able to rough it because bicycle camping and cooking is a pretty minimal experience. I don't mind that. However, something less intense is nice to. I don't have to choose one or the other. Please share your experiences, all you other tiny trailer owners. (Note: it would also be good to add comments not just to social media pages where I post these but also to the actual blog, where they are easily accessible to readers and not lost within all the many posts to a FB group page.)

A main goal that my wife and I have is to eat while camping much as we eat at home. We feel this will be healthier for us in the long term. We've found, for instance, that making a large macaroni salad and then eating it in two days tends to lessen our desire to hike and to increase our desire to nap! Having the writing cooking equipment makes it much easier to cook while camping. Probably the easiest meal I've "cooked" was one snowy morning when I drank tea and ate bagels toasted over our campfire, slathering them with cream cheese and jam. Yum!

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  1. As a former winter backpacker, I learned to use a white gas Svea stove...essentially, a torch to heat water to be added to freeze dried food, instant coffee or tea. As a tent camper, and motorcycle tourist, having the space to carry propane or formerly white gas double and triple burner stoves, the opportunity to eat more camping than I would at home often became the norm. With our Kodiak on order, we'll be enjoying a shakedown camping experience at Pilot Mountain in July and then join others at the NE Gathering in Connecticut in August. Hopefully, we will be able to overcome some of the obstacles of cooking by next winter, except that in Connecticut, there is no water or electric to draw off of. Wondering if the induction cooker cook draw off a solar system? Otherwise, I'll simply take our single burner propane and Seth McGuinn Can Cooker to cook our meals, like we did in 2016 on a 5000 mile motorcycle tour. Thanks again for easy entertaing reading, lots of great photos and the inspiration to get out and enjoy the camping experience in every season!

  2. Here in Iowa, sometimes the only campground "luxury" during cold weather camping is the pit toilet facility. Some campgrounds still have water and electricity, some only electricity. I don't think I'd want to camp without electricity in winter weather--the oil space heater I use is a real comfort!

    I have an article coming up about bicycle camping experiences and how I plan to integrate bike riding into the tiny trailer experience. I use a Trangia alcohol stove when bike camping. It's very small and light. I also use sometimes a little "hobo" wood stove, an Emberlit titanium stove that uses twigs and small branches for firewood. Both are fun but minimal. I'm sure when you get your Kodiak you'll have many fun adventures that I look forward to reading about in our RTTC group.