Friday, February 15, 2019

Tiny Art of Teardrop Trailers: Jim Cook

Jim Cook, self-portrait

We own what we love and love what we own. That's the saying, anyway. We tiny trailer owners can also truly say the trailers we own give us lots of love and joy right back at us. And there are a few special teardrop owners who paint radiant, colorful pictures of their lovely trailers. RTTC Grizzly owner Jim Cook is one of those artists who spreads the joy with his palate of vivid color.

Last year while camping, I put on my "naturalist" hat and drew a few sketches of plants and trees. I tried my hand at drawing leaves and such, and the results were just recognizable enough for me to have a true appreciation of those folks who can actually paint and draw with skill. I love the vivid colors Jim Cook chooses, and I love the freedom and openness of his brush strokes. They remind me of why I camp--to leave behind the strictures of routine and to explore. Jim's use of color and how he boldly applies color . . . well, just looking at his paintings is liberating.

Jim Cook, artist

"This painting was inspired by David Hammer and his MINI Cooper. Yes, he pulls a Grizzly with a MINI Cooper. I was trying to encourage the members of our Facebook site to post more pictures in 2017 in order to increase interest and membership. One week in late 2017, it was David's photo that was selected by our judges (the Sechrist family)."

Jim Cook, artist

"The Southern Christmas one was a bit of a fantasy card," says Jim. "I lived most of my adult life up in northern Vermont and would dream of a real 'white Christmas' with white sand and palm trees. Now, I live down south and get to enjoy much warmer weather. We normally camp over New Years along the SC coast."

Jim paints using acrylic paints, and the paintings featured in this article are painted on card stock, so they are the size of greeting cards. He says, "My hope is to one day be able to bring my paints and some card stock when on the road camping, be able to paint, and store and sell my paintings without taking up a lot of room.  I figure most people desire to have greeting cards to buy, but maybe they want something a little different like a hand painted greeting card.  I sell them for five or six dollars apiece.  No, I will never get rich painting them, but they allow me to play around with the paint, make a little money, and not have to have a huge amount of space for canvas and finished inventory."

Jim and his wife Annette own a Grizzly and have several major camping excursions planned for 2019, including Florida, South Carolina, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.  "I am sure you have figured out by now that I am a huge fan of the RTTC brand.  I work hard to promote the brand any chance I get."

Jim at RTTC headquarters with his Grizzly Bear (and friends)

Jim's enthusiasm and energy for promoting the RTTC tiny trailer brand has been so effective that his relationship with the builder has been formalized by RTTC in January.
We would like to announce that Jim Cook has become our RTTC Am"BEAR"sador. Jim will be taking over all Facebook questions, phone calls when show room isn't open, heading up "bear-a-vans" and other gatherings across the USA. We are so thankful for all that Jim has done for RTTC so far. Thank you, Jim Cook, and look forward to even more exciting things to come. 
ALSO, March 30th, 2019 (Saturday), we will be having a customer appreciation day to welcome aboard Jim Cook, at RTTC headquarters in Pilot Mountain, NC. We will be providing food and door prizes. Looking forward to seeing you there.
Wonder why people tiny trailer camp? This painting answers the question.

And so we fittingly end this article with sand in our shoes and a song in our heart. I'd love to have this greeting card right now to lessen the chill of the -19 degree weather moaning its arctic dirge outside. A little art to soften the arctic . . . or something like that. Thanks, Jim, for sending a little sunshine our way.

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Friday, February 8, 2019

Cooking over Your Campfire: It's More Than Pretty

Billy Bob campfire set-up and accessories. (Seubert photo)

My campfire cooking equipment at this point in time consists of one of those wire forks used for cooking marshmallows or toast over a fire. And, I have to admit, I haven't even toasted marshmallows with my sturdy fork, only bread and barbequed tofu slices. My wife and I have talked about adding campfire cooking to our tiny teardrop trailer camping experience (we regularly use cast iron cookware at home), so this winter is the jumping off point for our future campfire cooking experiences.

I do find the concept of utilizing our campfire's wood and heat for more than something to look at an interesting possibility to add to our tiny trailer experience, and researching is always a first step. Many online articles and videos are available for reference, and I'll provide information I've gleaned plus links to interesting sites. There are many articles about campfire cooking, though, and I want this article to have a "boots on the ground" authenticity, which only experience can provide.

One teardrop trailer camper provided me with some experienced FB group advice of "the easier the better. Chicken, shrimp, beef kabobs. I usually marinate my meat or shrimp at home in a ziplock and freeze it. Easier than kabobs, put all ingredients in a grill basket and toss with seasoning and cook over the fire. Baked potatoes or seasoned potatoes in foil." This is already within my experience range, since I've toasted bread and heated BBQ tofu on a marshmallow fork. Roasting and baking are pretty straightforward, and the marinade-and-freeze home preparation method is a good one, easing not only the cooking but also the strain on the ice box. I can't wait to try out those wooden skewers I bought last year and never used!

We're fortunate regarding cooking help because a tiny trailer camping couple, Ruth and Greg Seubert, who regularly cook over a campfire, are adding their hands-on campfire cooking know-how to this article. For the last thirty-five years, most of their camp cooking has been over a campfire, the last seven specifically connected to teardrop camping. Although they do have a one-burner butane stove that they use every morning and sometimes on a chilly fall afternoon to make coffee, chai, or some hot chocolate, their main cooking experience is over the campfire.
"All of our meals are made over the campfire. From breakfast, to an afternoon snack to our main meal, and popcorn in the evening. Ruth does most of the prep/cooking; however, Greg is the campfire master, and keeps it stoked and manageable so nothing is burned....or raw. We have been known to have a fire going in the rain with the Dutch oven meal cooking, running back and forth from under cover to check on it or for some stirring."

Building a Campfire for Cooking

Right off the bat, I was surprised at the number of sources that included detailed instructions of how to safely build an effective campfire. REI has a video, "How to Build a Campfire," which is pretty much Campfire 101, detailing safety, materials, and different building styles. Several other online articles provided similar basics, including two ideas specific to campfire cooking: 1) if there is room, use half of the firepit space for the fire and the other half for cooking with the coals, and 2) "grade" the coals to a uniform surface after the fire has died down. "Build the fire; grade the coals." The Seuberts cook with wood, but if more precise and consistent temperatures are needed, they use charcoal, which they start with the coals of the fire. "We just move aside any logs that are still hot and count out how many briquettes we need and throw them in. It's easy to know when charcoal briquettes are ready. The campfire is just a little trickier. Think of it as cooking over a gas stovetop. If something starts to boil too quickly, we remove a log, or lift up the grate. If it's not cooking fast enough or not staying at a simmer, we either add to the fire or lower the grate."

Campfire Cooking Equipment

With all her years of experience, Ruth Seubert names her essential campfire cooking equipment, and other than some good cast iron pieces, there are four items they wouldn’t go camping without: Billy Bob Campfire Cooking Grate, Fire Dragon fireplace blower/poker, a hanging kettle to heat water (hers is 60+ years old), and firefighter gloves (also called grill gloves). The photograph at the top of this article displays her set-up. Embedded below is a review from YouTube channel Living Survival that does a good job showing how to set up, adjust, and use the Billy Bob.

The Seuberts have a definite routine they follow for setting up their cooking stations, including the firepit and ironware, a place for food preparation, and access to all their campfire cookware and accessories.
"The Billy Bob is one of our favorite camp accessories. For years we used a fry pod, but we got tired of 'chasing or spinning' the food to where we wanted it to be. The Billy Bob is one of those things we consider part of set up. Greg gets the stake pounded in and the grate leveled, we hang our water kettle, and we are good to go. Our fire gloves are always next to the fire, along with our Fire Dragon. With our teardrop everything is in the galley. Our cast iron skillets, the Dutch oven and kettles are visible and easy to reach. We also have two tables attached to our teardrop, and a pullout table if we need more space or we want to be under cover. 
"When we're ready to cook, an old tablecloth goes on the picnic table, and anything I need for the recipe comes out of the galley or the cooler. We've used the Billy Bob with a cast iron skillet, the Dutch oven, or foil packets over the fire. BBQ'd ribs have been made directly on the grate. Depending on what our menu is for a camping trip, I do as much prep work at home as I can. Cut up vegetables and chicken go in jars. Dry items such as measured-out flour, sugar or other ingredients needed for a recipe also go in jars and are stored in the galley. Potatoes and onions are in cloth bags. We rarely bring more than we need."
 I've researched various Lodge cast iron cookware pieces and already own a griddle and skillet my wife and I can allocate to camping. Lodge, an American company since 1896, has a wonderful website that I intend to study further. Lodge manufactures and sells cast iron, enamel, and carbon steel cookware. The website contains not only items for sale but also lots of information about the use and care of cookware. In addition, the site includes outdoor accessories (including campfire tripods and cooking utensils), recipes, and videos. With all cookware, though, be sure to consider not only the quality of the product but also the size of the skillet or pot in regards to the number of folks you are cooking for. We already have a cast iron griddle/grill and a skillet, so we probably will begin our campfire cooking experience without buying a lot of new cookware. Best to pick up some hands-on experience first, we think. However, I've embedded below a Lodge video about the Cook-It-All, an interesting cast iron piece, which "combines the utility of a cast iron camp Dutch oven with a griddle, grill pan, wok, skillet, and more for cooking over live fire or coal briquettes." The added highlight of the video for me is not the cookware preview but opportunity of seeing a chef out camping and using the product--inspiring . . . and intimidating.

Searching online reveals many products for campfire cooking, from cooking tripods and grills to cookware and accessories. I've only mentioned a few sources. Retailers such as Cabela's or REI are always places to look for what you need. Barebones is a company that sells a number of products, including cookware, and also has a blog with recipes, including quite a few vegetable dishes. And, of course, there are always the Amazon and Walmart possibilities. Choose what you need. Although we're all cooking, there's plenty of room for variation.

Cooking over a Campfire

Although Ruth Seubert has commented on our introductory campfire cooking topics, now it's time to turn the spatula over to her.

Describe some easy campfire cooking for beginners.

"The easiest thing to make over a campfire is breakfast. One cast iron skillet is all you need for a number of meals. Bacon, eggs, frittata, pancakes, french toast. We've made lemon blueberry biscuits and coffee cake. It's probably our favorite meal camping because we have the whole day ahead of us and good food in us! The majority of the time we do not plan or prepare for a lunch. We sleep in, have a later breakfast, explore, bike or hike, and return for our supper. With the Billy Bob it is easy to move a dish off to the side, or up, if the fire gets too hot or you need to add more wood.

Breakfast is served! (Seubert photo)

Breakfast frittata. (Seubert photo)

"The lemon blueberry biscuit recipe is the best! I always measure out the dry ingredients at home and put them in jars. At camp, I just need to add eggs, oil, blueberries and some fresh squeezed lemon and lemon peel. Mix it all up, put a parchment liner in the Dutch oven and spoon in the dough. If the recipe says 350 degrees, that's what we bake it at using the right amount of coals on the top and bottom. There are times it needs to go a little bit longer at camp, but we're usually patient because we know how good they are going to be. When done we drizzle a bit of powdered sugar glaze over the top, have our lattes and enjoy. Our newest Dutch oven has the temperature and amount of coals needed for the top and the bottom right on the lid. Whoever thought of that is a genius!"

Lemon-blueberry biscuits. (Seubert photo)

What are some complementary tools that are good to have on hand? 

"A good pair of tongs is a must, preferably with a long handle. Otherwise we wear the fire gloves so we don't have any burned knuckles or singed arm hair. I like to have a cloth table covering while getting all the ingredients ready. We use cloth napkins and stay away from plastic anything or paper plates. I'd rather do dishes than throw stuff in the garbage."

Tortillas for the Baba Ganoush. (Seubert photo)

What kinds of dishes do you cook over the campfire? What are your methods for cooking

"Seven years ago, the start of our teardrop camping life, we decided for that first year we wouldn't have any of the typical Wisconsin camping food. Hamburgers, hot dogs, or bratwurst were not on our menus. After that first year, we never looked back! We plan meals that we enjoy at home and figured out what we needed to make the same dish over the campfire." Although they have found some good recipes out of books, most of their recipes are found online, part of their home preparation.

Preparing at home saves time and fuss. (Seubert photo)

"We've had taco or tortellini soup, made at home and reheated over the fire. These work perfect for times when we are going to get to the campsite late or in the dark, and it's easy to heat while we're setting up. We have a good hot meal and don't consider stopping for fast food on our way. Jambalaya is a favorite meal, either in the Dutch oven or in foil packets. Lasagna, Sloppy Joes, BBQ chicken made in a pudgy-pie iron, chicken and dumplings, chicken pot pie. Nachos are easily made over the fire, along with grilling chicken or BBQ ribs. We've made donuts over the fire, pineapple upside down cake, and baked cookies and coffee cake in our Swedish Reflector Oven, and popped popcorn in the Dutch oven.

We bought a Swedish reflector oven for baking. It folds flat, so it doesn’t take up much room in the galley at all. We’ve made coffee cake, cookies and cinnamon rolls. We control the temperature with the fire embers, moving it closer or further away depending on how the temperature is fluctuating. It’s a fun way to be able to watch your food bake. If you're thinking these all sound like comfort foods--you're exactly right!!

Turkey sandwiches with cheese and spicy mustard. (Seubert photo)

Swedish reflector oven with coffee cake. (Seubert photo)

Campfire lasagne, yum! (Seubert photo)

"We do have vegetables: a spicy slaw is one of our favorites and is easy to prep at home by cutting up the cabbage, peppers and onions, and making the dressing and putting it in a jar. And vegetables are included in our meals, celery, carrots, potatoes, peppers, etc. I admit, we don't usually have a vegetable as a side dish while camping."

Coleslaw and spicy BBQ chicken sandwiches,
made with pudgy pie irons. (Seubert photo)

Pudgy pie irons. (Seubert photo)

What is the most "gourmet" meal you've cooked over a campfire? Is it possible?

"Well, we rarely eat 'gourmet' meals even when we're home! The most unusual thing was probably Baba Ghanoush, cooking the eggplant over the fire and grilling tortilla shells until crisp. It was delicious! People can't believe we make chicken pot pie over the campfire, but with the Dutch oven being like an actual home oven, you can make just about anything and get a nice browned crust on top."

"A Simple Evening: An Outdoor Gathering with Barebones Living"
One might think that campfire cooking is an expensive hobby. There is a lot of cooking equipment that can ease and facilitate the experience, but ultimately fancy is not absolutely necessary. Our ancestors cooked over fires, but it's good to remember that for them, the tripods and spiders and hooks they used were their everyday cooking equipment, not just hobby equipment. If they cooked on something like the Billy Bob grill, they didn't also own a Bosch gas stove. An inexpensive grill and a cast iron skillet or pot, stones or wood for supporting the cooking surface and adjusting height--how simple and unadorned the campfire cooking experience can be! While perusing YouTube, I even ran across videos of using a flat rock as a cooking surface.

The Seuberts have something to say about the simple pleasure of cooking over a campfire. "When we are camping it's about being outside and keeping it simple. We don't have any electric appliances. In seven years we probably have only 'plugged in' a total of three weekends. Usually because it was a last minute site, and we had to pay for an electric hook up anyway. A great memory for us is when we camped, literally, 'on the prairie' in DeSmet, South Dakota, at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. I remember thinking, 'I could have lived like this!' We love opening up the foil, flipping eggs and bacon in the skillet, taking the lid off the Dutch oven or releasing the pudgy-pie iron, amazed at what we created. When we take our first bites, it tastes so much better than at home." Thank you so much for sharing your cooking experience and wisdom, Ruth and Greg.

My wife and I intend to start simple and then make our buying decisions after some experience. Our wonderful little Jefferson County Campground, which is one of our favorite camping spots, is only four miles from our home. Campfire cooking will be a great way to enrich our camping experience. How about my wife and I camp there and try a little campfire cooking this spring in May when the campground opens? That's only a little over three months away. What!? Three months? Maybe I'd better check out some other campgrounds close by.

Jefferson County Park


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Friday, February 1, 2019

Tiny Trailer Camping Photos (Without the Camper!)

Indian Lake, Farmington, Iowa

Such a beautiful view of the lake . . . or the mountains . . . or the dry, pristine desert . . . or the ocean or lakeshore--and then there's the trailer, taking up a large percentage of the photo's space. I've done it--and don't tell me you haven't done it. We love our tiny trailers and our teardrops so much that we just can't help including them in the photograph.

And there's nothing wrong with that. We love our sweet babies. Sorting out my 2018 camping season photos, though, I have come to realize that one goal of the 2019 season is to have some balance, for pete's sake, and to frame some shots that don't include the Green Goddess. She's a big girl and will understand. I hope.

Therefore, what follows are some photographs from some of my expeditions that were not included in the original blog posts. I'll link them to the articles (the titles are links), and hopefully will provide a fuller, more substantive perspective of each adventure.

What's Glamping Without Cellphone Receptivity?

It's August, it's hot and humid, and I'm touring the campgrounds around my hometown, searching for good cellphone receptivity so my wife can camp with me during the week and still work. Five photographs--two of the car and trailer. Not too out of balance, Tom.

Oakland Mills Campground (actually several clustered at a bridge on the Skunk River) has some beautiful scenery, of which the photos in the article fairly represent. I left out some lookers, though, which I'm now glad to share. 

The old Oakland Mills bridge is now just a walkway, but it is beautiful.

A couple of the campgrounds edge the river, providing the placid beauty of calm waters.

Oakland Mills was once a thriving river town, with a weir to provide water power to drive the grain mill. The original blog article has a nice shot of the weir. Now it is a quiet fishing and recreation area, with a few houses and a tiny, colorful restaurant full of local color. And what about cellphone receptivity? You're gonna hafta read the article!

It's Not Just How Many Miles or Places

Lake Sugema Campground was one of the favorite places my wife and I camped last year. We had a wonderful view of the lake, featuring great sunrise panoramas. Looking over my photos, I really took some great shots of my vehicle and rig, turned golden by the rising sun! And I fared pretty well in the snapshot department--one out of four shots of the rig. Only thirty miles from home, Lake Sugema is a great place to camp . . . and has great cellphone receptivity!

Mid-week, this was a quiet, scenic spot, a great way for my wife to start her work day!

My wife and I camped at Sugema more than once, and the lake vista just kept getting more and more charming. The last time we camped was during a motorcycle rally--a much more lively yet still fun experience! This is a small county campground, and we found that mid-week it was almost like our private land. We're looking forward to next year.

After becoming familiar with the campground, I began to explore the walking path on the lake.

Mostly developed for fishing, Lake Sugema doesn't have all the amenities of the larger state parks. However, its more modest development of playgrounds or paved roads is more than made up for by its intimacy. This isn't an RV city; it's more a hamlet, which is appropriate for the Villages of Van Buren County. There's something about the water, though, something about the play of light on water that is so calming.

Fall Snow at Indian Lake

My first experience of camping in snow and my first experience of camping in prolonged temperatures below freezing, I really enjoyed four days at Indian Lake. I had camped there twice before when passing through while bicycle touring and also twice when tent camping with my wife. This time I walked four times around the lake, three in snow, which was a wonderful, silent experience.

I'm at about fifty percent for this blog post, about half the photos of the Green Goddess or of me. The other photos are good ones of the lake and snow. Enjoy! The original post also includes a fun video that I created while camping. 

A view of Indian Lake prior to the snowfall, a contrast to the photo included with the blog story,

The temperatures during my stay at Indian Lake were quite varied, from the 40's down to the teens. Sunshine, fog, rain, sleet, and snow--my four-day stay provided a great chance to test the trailer in a variety of conditions. She did well, although I still had some issue with leaking in the lower corners. Hopefully, that's been fixed with extra caulking. We'll see in the spring.

The trail around the lake includes these two ancient oaks, so strong and regal.

I've both walked and ridden my bike around the lake. If fact, during this particular trip, I biked the first day and walked the other days, after the snowfall. I have to say that I really enjoy walking the trail. Yes, it's slower, but it's easier to allow more attention to flow to the surroundings and not just to the quality of the terrain a few feet in front of the bike tire. Funnily enough, I also enjoyed bundling up and walking in the cold. When I started my walk, my boots were still freezing cold from their night's stay on the camper floor--frozen. By the time I finished my walk, though, the boots were warm and the walking easy.

Walking in a winter wonderland.

I'm glad I've added to my memories these photos of my camping trips--photos without a camper in sight. I just love my tiny camper and how it lessens the extremes of camping. I like having access to a space heater when it's cold and an air conditioner in the blazing heat of August. Just a bit here and there (or now and then?) does the trick of removing the worm from the apple. There's a reason I leave my home to camp, and these photos express that same reason, only why I leave my camper, not my home. We are just as much a part of the world, of nature, as the most shy and elusive woodland creature. The text that tells us that, though, doesn't come from a smartphone. It written much larger, infinitely large and silent.

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