Category Archives: Kitchen

photo of presenter and Irma Harding

Femineering, My Irma Harding Presentation

Teardrop Trail Log: June 15, 2017

graphic of Irma Harding with "They're Femineered"

They’re Femineered

I can still remember meeting Lee Klancher from Octane Press and discussing food and cookbooks. Sometimes the universe can create amazing opportunities. I was delighted when Lee introduced me to Irma Harding and invited me to write Canning, Pickling and Freezing with Irma Harding. It was a great project that has put me in touch with so many wonderful people. Octane Press has hosted book signings and my presentations at each of the Red Power Round Ups. I always love to meet Irma’s fans and enjoy hearing people share their personal family stories about relatives who canned as well as how they started preserving food.

It has been fun being “Irma’s ghost writer” and telling her stories as well as the stories of the home economists who took Irma’s message to the women of the Mid-West farm county and taught them how to freeze food. This year’s topic was Femineering, a term developed by International Harvester to highlight and honor the unique contributions of the women who helped develop the refrigerators and freezers. One of the old newsletters describes how the “feminine eye continued watching, spot-checking the production lines and testing performance under laboratory conditions.”

It was nice to see several friends from previous presentations. I had met Marsha Corbin, the Executive Director at the Old Trails Region in West Central Missouri at a past Red Power Roundup. She had invited me to share one of my Irma Harding presentations for the Missouri Cattle Women. After the presentation ended, Travis Loschen and his wife Meghan stopped to say hi. They had seen several of the Irma presentations at the last few Red Power Roundups. They have an incredible Irma Harding Collection in the garage of their home in Royal, Illinois. Check out the video. Irma’s fans are a dedicated group!

photo of presenter and Irma Harding

Femineering in action

photo of the solar system with A new AGM battery

A Solar Upgrade for the Teardrop Trailer

Teardrop Trail: June 4, 2017

In the last few months, I’ve been working on a larger solar system to pump water at the ranch. We live out in the Texas Hill Country and occasionally experience power interruptions, and I wanted to use solar power to improve our emergency preparedness. The experience of designing and building that system led me to rethinking the teardrop solar system.

A New Battery

photo of Cutting a hole for the data display

Cutting a hole for the data display

Two 100-watt solar panels provide enough power to meet our modest camping needs, but I felt the battery could be improved. We were using a marine battery, but it was a compromise between high starter current (which we would never use)  and deep-cycle power for camping use. An Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) deep-cycle seemed a better match. I ordered an Optima D34M Blue Top that could supply up to 55 Amp/hours of power and fit into the modest available space.

And a way to measure it

photo of The new data display

The new data display

Of course, fully discharging any lead-acid battery will shorten its life and normally one leaves at least a 50% charge. How do you know when you’ve reached 50% remaining power? You can estimate from the battery voltage, but measuring power directly would be best. That led to the second upgrade; a digital energy meter. It shows voltage, current and power, as well as the total power in watt/hours consumed since the last reset. Using the Optima battery as an example, I could use up to 330 watt/hours of power ((55 amp/hours / 2) * 12 volts = 330 watt hours) before it was wise to recharge.

Electric Kettles for Camping?

Finally, we enjoy electric kettles for heating water, and they’re perfect for camping. In many campgrounds, shore power is available and we can heat water for tea, coffee and washing up with ease. Would it be possible to use an electric kettle on solar power?

photo showing solar system With 1000 watt inverter installed

With 1000 watt inverter installed

Researching electric kettles and hot pots I found one model that only used about 1000 watts. A lot of power, but within reach of a not-too-expensive 12-volt to 120-volt inverter. It looked like fun to see if I could make it work, and I ordered an inverter and the necessary wiring to hook it up. Besides; the same inverter could be used to power a Crockpot or Slow-cooker — something we’ve already shown is practical.

The picture tells the story. The new battery, inverter and hot pot were connected and did indeed heat 12 ounces of water to boiling. It used 164 watt/hours of energy as measured by the new digital meter — about half of the available battery storage. Not too practical, but a fun experiment!

Latching the Hatch

Teardrop Trail Log: April, 2017

We’ve been generally happy with our teardrop trailer, but have had one recurring problem. The galley hatch lid will not stay down. We encountered the problem on our very first trip to the Red Power Roundup in Huron, South Dakota in June of 2014.

The problem usually occurs when we hit a rough patch of road or rumble strips, and is more an annoyance than a real problem. I finally decided it was time to fix it, and found some chromed hood-latches on eBay that would do the trick. This video describes the installation process.

photo of Solar chili complete

Solar Chili

Making good food with limited resources has always been appealing to me, and camping presents a perfect challenge. I still enjoy cooking over an open campfire, but solar power presents a new opportunity to make great food with simple tools.

photo of the Solar-powered system in the galley

Solar-powered system in the galley

With the addition of a slow-cooker to our galley and the upgrade of the teardrop’s solar power system, I began thinking about combining the two. Marilyn’s recipe for “Teardrop Pork Chops” proved we could have dinner ready when we got back to camp in the evening. I wondered if the solar system could effectively power the slow-cooker. Some quick measurements with the “Kill-a-watt” meter showed power usage for the 1 1/2 quart cooker to be well under 100 watts — even on the “high” setting. The “low” setting only consumed about 65 watts. With our 200-watts of solar panels and adequate sun, it should work fine. What to cook for an experiment?

Slow-cookers have always worked well with bean dishes, in fact, they were invented for cooking beans. The combination of low temperatures and long cooking times guarantee tender beans that retain their shape and texture. Chili is an iconic bean dish, and what could be better after a day of camping fun?

Solar Chili

Cooker: 1 1/2 quart oval, powered by a 300-watt Bestek Inverter plugged into a 12-volt, 200-watt solar system
Settings and Cook times: HIGH for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, then LOW for 8 to 9 hours

1/2 pound dried pinto beans, cleaned and soaked overnight and drained
2 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 pound of course-ground lean meat, beef, pork or turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
3 ounces of tomato paste or puree
1 1/2 tablespoons of Dixon medium hot (or other high quality) chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

For serving:
Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Chopped fresh tomatoes
Chopped green onions
Warm cornbread or saltine crackers

photo of Starting the beans and garlic

Starting the beans and garlic

Put the soaked and drained beans and whole garlic cloves in the slow cooker, adding enough water to cover. Cover and cook on HIGH until tender but not mushy, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Drain and discard the garlic.

photo of

All ingredients cooking

Meanwhile, brown the ground meat and onions in a large skillet and drain off the fat. Mix the meat, onions, partially-cooked beans, tomato paste, chili powder and cumin in the slow-cooker. Add enough water to cover and stir. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 to 9 hours, stirring occasionally. During the last hour, season with salt. Serve with toppings and warm cornbread.

photo of a solar dining experience

A solar dining experience

How did we do? Using the measured slow-cooker wattage on high and low settings, a little quick math showed a total power consumption of about 750 watt-hours — within the production capacity of our 200-watt solar system on a sunny day. With the skillet-baked cornbread, all the fixins’ and a glass or two of wine — delicious.


Photo of camp Before the raccoons

Campfire Evening — Another Masked Bandit

Teardrop Trail Log: June 21

Photos of a raccoon

A Raccoon!

We returned to our campsite — still pondering what we had seen at Taliesin. Two days of attractions and history, and I was looking forward to dinner, a campfire and a quiet evening. The weather was clear and comfortable, with none of the famous mosquitos I had heard so much about. It was shaping up to be a perfect evening.

Marilyn began fixing dinner while I built a campfire. Many national and state parks will provide a bundle of firewood for a few dollars since they don’t want campers scrounging the woods, and we had thought to pick one up on the way back to our campsite. With a steel fire ring and the split, seasoned wood, getting the fire started didn’t take long. Tasty beverages in hand, we reviewed the day while cooking dinner provided delicious smells.

The conversation about the wonders of central Wisconsin continued, and pretty soon we were eating dinner. As the tasty beverages worked their magic, we began to think about washing up and a peaceful night in the teardrop. I had to get something out of the Lady, and intending to be right back, left the driver’s side door open. As I walked back to the trailer, I heard noises. Was there something in the car?

With our previous experience in mind, I took my iPhone out and readied the camera. I could see movement in the front seat, and opened the passenger door. Staring at me from the driver’s side was a juvenile raccoon! These critters move fast! Holding its ground, I was able to snap several pictures before shooing it away. Later, we found an opened bag of potato chips — a bold bandit with a taste for junk food!

photo of raccoon looking for potato chips

What have you done with my potato chips?

photo of Teardrop Pork Chops preparation

Tasty Trail Red Power Food

Teardrop Trail Log: June 17, 2016

The Tasty Trail has taken us to some amazing culinary adventures with a variety of great eats and fairground cuisine at each of the Red Power Round Up events. At the Racine County fairgrounds, many of the food concessions were operated by community organizations like the Kiwanis, Future Farmers of America and 4H bringing a local perspective to the menu.

photo of A fairground 4H breakfast

A fairground 4H breakfast

For breakfast, we selected the 4H concession. They were serving up biscuits with ham and cream gravy, like the gravy often found on Chicken Fried Steak. This comfort food has a long history, with a balance between flour and grease for the perfect consistency. As we waited for our food, we watched as the adults teaching youngsters to take orders, write tickets and place orders while preparing the iconic fairground breakfast. It was so tasty, we returned the next day.

Another day, we waited in line for mouth-watering brats for lunch at the stand run by members of the Kiwanis club. It seemed that everyone else had been lured in by the amazing smell of brats that wafted around the grassy area in the middle of the grounds.

photo of Proctor Silex 33116Y Slow Cooker

Proctor Silex Slow Cooker

For dinner –  we decided to add a small crockpot to our Teardrop kitchen. It was a perfect way to have a wonderful dinner at our campsite at the Racine County Fairgrounds. I loaded up the tiny cooker before going out for the book signing and my presentation on Irma Harding. Dinner was waiting when we returned. Here is our recipe.

Teardrop Pork Chops

2 boneless Pork chops (3/4″ thick)
1 chicken bouillon cube
1/4 cup hot water
2 Tbsp Dijon Mustard
2 small onions
freshly ground pepper

Sear the pork chops. Dissolve bouillion in the hot water, add mustard and stir.
Cut off the ends, and peel the onions, then cut in half cross wise to make 4 thick “wheels”.
Place the onions on the bottom of the Crockpot in a single layer.
Once chops are seared, place them atop the onions.
Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste, and slowly add the liquid over all.
Cook for 4.5 hours

photo of raided egg carriers

Raccoon Caper #2 – The Nocturnal Invasion

Teardrop Trail Log: June 14, 2016

Camp Mark Twain State Park established and a scrumptious chicken dinner under our belts, we cleaned the dishes and put away the food. We’ve camped in numerous national and state parks in the last few years, and have developed a bedtime routine. Galley closed, kitchen boxes stacked and Igloo cooler closed. Time for bed. Marilyn is usually earlier into bed than me, but I was tired as well and we turned in. Soon we were both asleep.

photo of Raccoon crime in Progress

Raccoon crime in Progress

I’m a light sleeper and usually up in the middle of the night, but this night I was awakened by a commotion outside. Crash! Bang! What on earth?! I sleep next to the door in our teardrop, and grabbing my iPhone (always ready for a photo!) I opened the door and leaned out. We had a raccoon in camp, and he was exploring our stuff. Pushing the door open and stepping out, I made some noise and the invader escaped. Even though it was dark, I could see we’d been raided. The cooler was open, and various wrappers were scattered around. Well, the damage was already done so I went back to bed. We could survey the crime scene in the morning.

photo of the evidence

The evidence

Marilyn was the first one up in the morning and cleaned up the mess. The raccoon had opened the Igloo cooler (we even have trouble opening that!) and scored a pound of bacon, a pound of butter, two pounds of lunch meat, several eggs and a yogurt.

photo of opening the egg carrier

Not easy to open

It was able to open the egg containers and that’s not easy. It was also able to get the meat and bacon out of zipper bags without destroying them. Apparently they can work the zipper pulls. Their scientific name is appropriate: Procyon lotor or extremely dexterous front paws.

Later, when Marilyn went to the camp office to buy more ice, she mentioned the raid, and the camp host wasn’t surprised. It seems the local raccoons have developed a taste for beer and are able to open pull-tab cans. Two nights of camping so far, and two incidents. I wonder if they prefer lagers or ales?

photo of Igloo cooler

Tiny raccoon fingerprints

photo showing Marilyn Cooking with the new galley table

New Countertop for the Galley

Jim, July 24:

Trailer kitchen in the living room.

Trailer kitchen in the living room.

The Problem

Over the last several trips, I realized we were spending a lot of time setting up and striking each campsite. The lack of storage was corrected with the tongue box, but the Timber Creek Camp Kitchen took too long to set up. We needed another surface for the stove. I began to think about a counter that would hang on the galley edge.

There were several criteria. It had to attach with little modification and compliment the style of the teardrop. It had to store easily and be strong enough to support a two-burner stove with pans and skillets. And of course, it had to set up quickly. The raised lip at the back end of the galley could be used as an attachment point, but without legs supporting the other end because of the trip hazard. The best solution was to cantilever the counter with support from the underside of the trailer. Time’s a wastin’!

The Build

photo of Initial mockup

Initial mockup

I cut a 21-inch by 26-inch piece of birch plywood. This was the largest surface that would mount in the hatch opening without interfering with the galley storage.  It was long enough to support our camp stove with a propane bottle. Next, I cut 9-inch pieces of 3/4-inch steel strap and bent one end to form an “L”. These fit into the gap between the galley countertop and hatch lid while attaching to the plywood. Using a couple of clamps, I mocked up the proof of concept. Success!

photo of Trial fit of support pattern

Trial fit of support pattern

Now for the cantilever supports. I wanted a design that would fit our teardrop. I drew a shape on a scrap of masonite and cut it with a saber saw. A trial fit with the table mockup looked promising, but I would have to match the curving shape of the trailer exactly. Several rounds of cut and fit were needed. Houston, we have a pattern.

I used the pattern to cut two pieces of plywood. Time for an edge treatment. I routed a 1/2 by 3/8-inch rebate in a piece of birch 1 by 2. This would cover the plywood laminations on the edge of the table, flush with the top. A table saw and a 45º sled made quick work of cutting the birch edges to length. A quick glue-up and I was done for the night.

Let’s Finish This

The interior of our teardrop is varnished, and the wood and polished aluminum go well together. I sanded all the table parts and coated them with boiled linseed oil. We were running short of time before our trip, and the oil would protect the wood. I’ll add a more durable finish later.

Linseed oil dried, I mounted the supports to the table with piano hinges. Another trial fit, and all was well. Folded, the table fits flat on top of the galley storage for transport. Finally, I drilled holes through the steel straps into the galley edge and threaded them for thumb screws. This prevents the table from detaching while in use. Level and plumb, the galley was ready!

photo of Jim with the new galley table

Ready for camping!

Photo of tree swing over the swimmin' hole

A Trip to Krause Springs

photo of Marilyn


Jim, July 22:

Marilyn was eager to connect with teardrop trailer enthusiasts and looked for groups we might join. The Southwest Teardrop & Vintage Trailers had a scheduled meetup in May and we decided to go. The three-day event was more than our time allowed, so we drove up for the day on Saturday. That way, we could make some new friends and check out Krause Springs at the same time.

Krause Springs

Located in the Texas Hill Country off Highway 71 on the way to Llano, the privately-owned, 115 acre park has been in operation since 1955. It’s on the National Registry of Historic Sites and has been owned by the Krause family for over 50 years. We happen to be on the right side of Austin, so it’s very close to our home, Roy Creek Ranch, northwest of Dripping Springs. We were there in less than an hour. It’s a beautiful park with camping, hiking trails, a butterfly garden and or course, the springs! One of the best swimmin’ holes in Texas, the springs ultimately empties into Lake Travis. With both natural and man-made pools, it’s easy to cool off on a hot summer day.

A tour of Teardrops

Marilyn had already contacted the group, and they were expecting us. They quickly found us a spot in the impressive line of teardrop trailers, and we spent the next couple of hours visiting with our new friends. Most of the trailers are custom crafted, and The Ambassador fit right in. There were a wide range of sizes an looks, and it was clear that everyone took teardrop camping very seriously. Our solar-powered beer cooler was a hit, and I was glad we had a special feature to show off.

Hiking the Springs

The initial flurry of introductions and tours completed, we had bite of lunch and decided to look around the park. We spent the next couple of hours exploring.

An Evening Potluck

Hikes, swims, naps and other afternoon activities completed, it was time for cocktails and a potluck. Marilyn had prepared some potato salad, and the overachievers in the group insured no-one left hungry. It was amazing to see what was produced in the tiny teardrop galleys: chips and dips, casseroles, slow-cooked pulled pork and a variety of desserts and more. An amazing day — lots of unique trailers and new friends!

photo of Krause Springs Pool

Krause Springs Pool

Preparing to hit the Teardrop Trail again!

Electric Travel Refirgerator

Electric Travel Refrigerator

Marilyn, March 19:

When we got the teardrop trailer, we started to look for ways to take some of our favorite foods along. Most people know the hassle traveling with an ice chest can be. Looking for ice in some remote areas can be extremely frustrating. On one of our shopping trips, we found this amazing little fridge. It plugs into the cigarette lighter in the back of the Mazda but does have an adaptor for a wall outlet. We carry many things that normally live in our home fridge. It’s a great way to prepare a lunch for the road. As we get ready for our Big Bend trip, we are getting the little fridge ready for to go.

Just one warning – unplug it from the cigarette lighter when you stop in the campground. It can plug into shore power. We found out the hard way that this little wonder can drain your battery when I failed to disconnect it. Makes for an unpleasant surprise in the morning. It is also not the optimum way to meet other folks in the campground.