Wednesday, January 22, 2014

To the important business of eating

Opposite the gaucho, on the passenger side of the van, is the solid surface kitchen counter and under-mount sink with a pull-out style faucet. By opening the sliding side door I can pull this faucet out and use it outside the van without having any additional holes punched through the van’s skin to worry about. A drop-in cover made from a piece of the solid surface material fits over the sink and flush with the countertop. It keeps me from losing my mouse in the sink when standing at the counter messing with the laptop. I also hide my dirty dishes under this cover until I do my once-a-day dish washing. The sink cover also makes a handy little tray. I often set it beside me on the couch to hold my drink and snack while taking a break from driving.

At the forward end of the counter is a swing-up extension, made from the same solid surface material. It blocks the side door when up but adds nearly two feet of additional counter space and serves as a table when the passenger seat is swiveled around to face it.

Of course, below the counter is storage. At the forward end there’s a silverware drawer with cupboard below. When the side door is slid open I can also access this cupboard from outside through a second door. Even allowing space for the drawer this cupboard is plenty tall enough to divide with a shelf and this shelf is where I keep my single burner propane stove and several of the disposable propane bottles it uses.

I opted for a portable stove rather than built in for several reasons; even if I had a permanent stove I’d also carry the portable so why have both in the first place?; the portable stove does not require a built in propane system; when not cooking I don’t have a stove taking up part of the countertop; I like that the stove is a multi-tasker that I can use inside or out depending on weather and my mood; and if something goes wrong with the stove in the middle of a trip or I suddenly get a wild hair and decide I can't live without two burners for cooking my gourmet  meals, (OK, you can stop laughing now Mom.) I can pick up a replacement easily and without breaking the bank.

I have installed elastic loops and padding on this shelf to make sure the propane bottles stay put and don’t rattle and chafe against each other. These little propane bottles aren’t the most economical or green solution but I don’t seem to go through them very fast and have space for up to 4 of them so never have never been caught short when one runs out, (Unlike a chassis mounted tank or single large bottle I used to have on other rigs.) and it’s easy to replace the empties. I’ve even seen them sold in some grocery stores.

In the bottom of this cupboard I keep a well-stocked tool bag, a potable water hose and a tire repair kit so I can deal with simple punctures myself.

Moving towards the back of the van, under the sink is another shelf where I keep a small plastic-shopping-bag sized trash can with a tight fitting lid for those stinky days between garbage dumps out there in the back country, spare plastic shopping bags/trash can liners, a cutting board, dish soap and an electric tea pot. I also keep a small bottle of bleach under here for freshening up the grey water tank. I’ve fashioned a couple compact towel bars from #4 AWG copper ground wire which are attached to the backs of the two doors that access this space. This is where I hang my dish cloth and dish towel. Remember, the doors have the lattice inserts for good air circulation so the towels dry pretty well even though they are out of sight.

Below this shelf are the potable and grey water tanks and the 12 volt water pump. I’ll have more to say about the water system shortly.

There’s one more cabinet space there under the aft end of the counter. Like the rest of them this one also has a shelf in it. On that shelf is where I keep a couple empty, nearly weightless, one gallon water jugs to use in case I ever have to carry water from a source I can’t get to with my normal fill hose. I also keep one or two gallons of bottled water there as well as my 1 ½ quart slow cooker. I can start this cooker up in the morning, running it off of shore power or, on travel days, the inverter, and come up with some pretty nice meals by dinner time with very little work.

Below this shelf there’s just enough space for my portable toilet.

More on that later, but for now – above the kitchen counter is another overhead cupboard. Because of the side door opening this one is smaller than the one over the gaucho and only has a single door but is still large enough to hold: a deep, straight-sided 8” frying pan with lid which doubles as a sauce pan and even a makeshift stove-top oven, a small mixing bowl, 4 8” plates stacked with circles of padded shelf liner between them so they don’t rattle and a stacking set of various sized stacking plastic storage containers with lids. I use these as bowls for cereal and salad, microwave containers, and storage containers for leftovers. Also living up here is a stove-top kettle for when I don’t have shore power for the electric kettle, a heavy ceramic coffee mug (tea mug in my case) from one of the US Navy destroyers I helped build back in the late ‘70’s, salt and pepper grinders (Grinders don’t spill), and, finally, a small pump bottle I fill with vinegar for disinfecting/deodorizing the countertop area and the microwave.

At the forward end of this overhead cabinet is a smaller extension which houses the electrical panel with breakers for 110 volt circuits as well as fuses for 12 volt circuits and the switch for the water pump. Also sharing space up here is the CO2 detector and both a 110 and a 12V power outlet. On the end of this extension, facing the ‘man chair’ is the thermostat for controlling the air conditioner, the switch for the recessed overhead cabin lights (LED) and an indoor/outdoor thermometer.

Aft of the kitchen counter, is a full-height pull-out pantry. It’s only about 9 inches wide and just barely six feet high, but the six shelves hold an amazing amount of stuff.

The bottom shelf, which is narrower than the others because of the wheel well at the back of the pantry, is my library where I keep a stash of up to a dozen books.

The next shelf up is filled with military style MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat). I can fit nearly a week’s worth of decent, three-meals-a-day eating here in case I get a wild hair and decide at the last minute to take an overnight hike, or else pull some sort of bone-headed stunt that finds me stuck somewhere remote without having stopped to stock up before I got there.

Above that is a shelf where I keep miscellaneous odds and ends like spare sunglasses, extra bug repellant, and a battery powered hair trimmer and shaver in case I want to look halfway decent, which I can get a little lax about sometimes because – well – hey, who am I trying to impress anyway??.

The next shelf up is filled with cd/DVD jewel boxes, most of which are the university lecture courses I listen to when driving. . . I know, I know, such a geek. . .

The second from the top shelf has a paper towel holder mounted in it with room below even a full roll for a pack of those adult sized baby wipes, very hand when on the road, as well as a spare soap dish/bar of soap and packages of individually wrapped foam ear plugs. (Since I can tell you want to ask, I’ll get to those later too.)

And finally the top shelf is my medicine cabinet with all the usual stuff necessary to keep me pretty, smelling good and make repairs to my body. I also keep a pump bottle of hand disinfectant up here. Not something you want to be using all the time but it sure is nice to have after visiting some of the public bathrooms lurking around out there.

Back over on the other side of the van, aft of the couch, is the refrigerator cabinet. Unlike many RV fridges, this one is a compressor unit that runs on either 12V or 120V, no gas. The advantages of this are: no propane system is required, it doesn’t care whether it’s level or not, and it will cool the leftovers down slightly (But only slightly) quicker than an absorption fridge. The disadvantages are: unless hooked up to shore power it uses juice from the battery, at its worst about 50 amp hours a day at 85 degree outside air temperature, and the compressor vibrates when it’s running which can be a bit noisy in such a confined space, especially if those glass jars of pickles and olives are rattling together!

Along with the usual stuff you find in a fridge, which is most of the food I have with me whether it needs refrigeration or not since a full fridge is more efficient, I keep six 500 ml water bottles in the freezer section which pretty much fills it up. They do a great job of helping the fridge stay cool and reducing the amount of cycling the compressor has to do. If I need to put something else in the freezer, like maybe something I can eat, a few of the bottles are pulled out and thrown into the sink where the condensation drains safely away. When I’m not traveling and the fridge is off I keep these as well as the four 700 ml water bottles I keep in the door of the fridge for actually drinking out of, in the home freezer. I find that by throwing these into the RV fridge when I turn it on, it will get down to operating temperature in less than an hour. If it has to re-freeze/re-chill all these bottles from scratch it can take as long as 24 hours to stabilize and I don’t always plan that far ahead.

The refrigerator is small enough that it leaves room for storage compartments both below and above along with space for a small microwave.

The space below the fridge is where I keep both an electric as well as a propane heater and a small tower fan which does a good job of moving air around without taking up a lot of floor space.

Next to the microwave (By turning the inverter on I can quickly zap things without being plugged into shore power.) which sits just above the fridge but is not as wide as the fridge, there’s room for a narrow cubby-hole where I keep tea bags, hot chocolate mix, and a few can goods.

In the top cupboard I keep spare rolls of toilet paper and paper towels, spare dish towels and rags, a box of sandwich bags and a few Swiffer refills that I use by hand for dusting, I also keep some goodies like cookies and pretzels up here, far away from my chair so I have to work to get at them.

The TV is mounted on an arm attached to the gaucho side of the refrigerator cabinet and I have a couple of permanently mounted hook-and-loop straps to strap it down and keep it from banging around when on the road.

Behind the pantry and fridge cabinets the final two and a half feet or so of the van is open space. Though this area has little to do with eating I’m throwing it in here because there’s not a whole lot to say about it.

There is a small overhead cabinet on each side of this space. I keep socks, underwear and shorts in the one on the driver’s side and in the one on the passenger side, a gym bag/shower tote, gym/shower shorts and shower shoes (Proper shoes, not flip-flops which are guaranteed to flop slop up the back of my nice clean legs on my way back to the van.) Each of these overhead cabinets has a bar mounted to the bottom of it giving me about 5 feet of hanging space for clothes, though I usually only use about half of that

My laundry bag, with a zip-lock filled with those little single-serving detergent packs thrown into the bottom of it, hangs from a hook mounted to the back side of the refrigerator cabinet. On the back side of the pantry I have a proper towel bar where my bath towel lives. Just inside rear doors, against the driver’s side wall, I have mounted a hook at just the right height above the floor to hold my always loaded backpack in place until I’m ready to go hiking.

Alright, we’re almost done with the inside now! I promise. (I did warn you I was going to be long winded. . .)

The two back doors of the van have pouches mounted on them. On the passenger side door, which is the door you have to open first, the bottom pouch is where I keep my rolled up 30amp shore power cord and a 15amp adaptor. The upper pouch is where I keep a coil of coax cable I can use if I happen to be in a campground that has cable TV available, which is not all that often, especially since, even when I’m in a fancy campground, I tend to opt for the more economical water/electric site and you usually have to pay for a full hookup site in order to earn the cable connection.
The top pouch on the driver’s side door is where I keep the binder with all the owner’s manuals and paperwork for the various systems on board the van. I don’t use the bottom pouch on this door because I have mounted a couple brackets to the inside bottom of it that my folding camp chair sits in with a couple of hooks and a bungee cord to keep it in place. Folded up inside that chair is a little teak table I built that hooks to either side if the chair for holding a drink and snack as I read a good book in the shade of a cottonwood beside a running creek with the sound of the wind and the birds in the trees. (Man! I really need to go camping soon!)

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