A few of the considerations that went into making my kitchen.
A revelation I had in planning my kitchen, after watching most van dwellers build their kitchens to replicate the dimensions (just smaller) of a house kitchen, is that all the cupboards, sinks, countertops, etc. in a house are all based on the size of the oven.
Even the stovetop range could be a different shape, the sink is the size and shape it is so that it fits in line with the oven, so is the fridge, and the cupboards are placed between them to take up the space there, and everything is box shaped because of the oven.
Without that constraint, there is no reason to have big, boxy cabinets that waste or poorly utilize space, with cans getting lost in their bowels for years. Sinks could be different sizes, fridges could be under or around other things, etc.
Since I don’t have that large, fixed oven, I made my cupboards one or two jars deep and tall, instead of fat and squat, which added a lot of space to the living area and lets me see and reach everything at once.
Sun oven and cooking and food:
I knew I didn’t want to use propane or butane, so camp stoves and similar devices were out. I wanted to use only renewable energy sources. Yes, I’m buying gas for the van, I realize the contradiction, I’m not perfect, big news.
My first thought was to use electricity from my solar panels to power the toaster oven from my kitchen, or possibly a microwave, but then I started looking at how many watts even the low-power ones use, and had to admit defeat and get creative.
Which is why I started looking into solar cooking, and bought the
All American Sun Oven. Sun ovens are fairly easy to make if you have a little time and resourcefulness, but I decided to give myself a break for once and just bought it. It works beautifully and I haven’t once regretted it.
Sun oven cooking has been a large staple of my cooking for about 10 months as of writing this, with one big caveat. Since I left the sunny Southwest, I haven’t been doing a whole lot of cooking. Part of that is because it has been cloudy a lot in the fall and winter seasons in New England and the Midwest, and part of that is just that I am on the road a lot and the sun oven needs to be stationary for an hour or a few to do its job.
Cooking with a sun oven isn’t difficult at all, but it does take some mental adjustments. Depending on the intensity of the sun, it will probably take a little longer to a lot longer to cook something than in an oven you can turn on at whim, so preplanning becomes critical. Once I started making the adjustment from “I’m hungry, pop something in the toaster oven” to “I expect to be hungry in two hours, pop something in now so it will be ready then” the rest was easy.
And dinner can be cooked in the afternoon and kept warm for a few hours to eat after sundown. I got a vacuum crock food jar (basically an oversized thermos) to keep food warm for me, which has worked well the dozen or so times I have wanted to use it.
I am looking forward to seeing how the sun oven will do in the coming spring and summer, when I will be traveling at a more relaxed pace (not trying to cram in a lot of visiting in a short time) and hopefully the sun will come out some more.
To supplement the sun oven, I have started experimenting with raw foods. Even though I have been vegan or mostly vegan the majority of my life, I was still skeptical about the whole raw foods thing. Sure, I’m vegan and have strong environmental views and now live in a van, but I don’t fit your standard stereotype of the hippie (or really, any version of hippie you might imagine) and I somehow associated raw foods with hippies and love fests and wheat grass juice—which I had a nasty encounter with once—and thought it would also be weird or nasty.
Maybe some of it is, but so far the recipes I have found have been really good. I mean really good. And easy. Part of that is that I am skipping the complicated recipes for now, but there are plenty of easy ones to choose from. It has been a lot of produce, which I love, with delicious sauces, is plenty filling, comparable in price to what I was spending on food anyway, and nutritious.
I’m not interested in “going raw” entirely, but it is a good addition to my diet and a useful tool to have when the sun is hiding.
I have an Engel brand fridge, the second largest one they make, which is a fridge/freezer combo. I wanted that brand—it has a great reputation and uses little power on the 12 V setting—but did not want to get one that big. However I got a really good deal on it on craigslist. It was half-price and absolutely brand new.
The one thing I wish were different is that it were a fridge only and not fridge/freezer combo. I don’t have that much use for things to be actually frozen, and the temperature setting only controls the freezer, so to keep things in the fridge cool enough, I have to have the freezer much lower so that enough cold air spills over into the fridge. That doesn’t seem like a great design to me, but that’s how it is. I wish I could just set the whole thing to a single fridge temp.
It functioned as a cooler for several weeks when I had some issues with my electrical setup and could not power it, and it was lousy as a cooler. I had to replace the ice every other day, even with being fiercely frugal with how often and long I opened it. The biggest hassle, however, was getting the melted water out of the bottom of the fridge, and ended up repurposing the hoses for my sink to pump the water out.
The water system in my van is a very simple, manual arrangement, whereby
- water is stored in metal cans
- pumped out of the can through a hose
- via a foot pump
- through another hose
- and comes out the faucet
- is drunk or cleans something
- and waste falls into the sink
- which is picked up and dumped outside when there is enough water
That’s it, no electricity, and it works very smoothly.
You can read my full review here of the water pump, water cans, and my LifeStraw water filter (for sourcing river water when boondocking). More about the whole sink and water setup is in the next post.