Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Field Guide to Luxury Tent Camping by Cara Schulz: A Review

I knew Cara online for years before we ever met in person. We were both involved in the same online community and interacted frequently. I finally had the opportunity to meet her on a weekend trip to Minneapolis a few years ago. We continued chatting on line and talked about camping and festivals and realized that we approached the subject similarly.

Matt and I decided to attend a week long camping festival and camp with Cara and her friends (who are now our friends). It was really easy to see how much she loved what she was doing - especially when it came to entertaining. Each day featured 2pm cocktails and a community dinner at night. We even hosted a gourmet 7 course meal one evening for 12 people. It was fabulous.

Now we take the time to make at least one camping trip with Cara and our friends each year. 

This is why I wasn't surprised at all when I learned about her plans to write a book on glamping. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the book was finally under way. Martinis and Marshmallows: A Field Guide to Luxury Tent Camping is now available through Amazon and I just received my copy last week.

Now, you might be wondering why I am writing about this book on my tiny house blog. It isn't just because it was written by a good friend. There are two primary reasons:
  1. I believe some luxury tent camping techniques and gear can be translated to tiny house living.
  2. It can make an excellent and inexpensive hobby/vacation for tiny house dwellers.
The book is divided into 4 sections, each with its own theme. The design and photos are excellent and well worth the price of admission. I just want to share a few of my favorite things from the book.

A collage of cocktail hour from our last trip.
The second chapter - The Modern Minimalist - offers some great tips for those of us who want to camp in luxury but don't want to store a ton of camping gear. And, some of the suggestions such as battery operated fans and the BioLite stove are great accessories for off-grid living.

Check out the glamping scouts idea - trust me, this was fun to do in real life. I was there!

I absolutely adore some of the products in the 3rd chapter, especially the wrought iron shave and washstand. And the DIY icebox could be a great addition for tiny homes that currently function without refrigeration.

There are also a lot of amazing camping recipes in the book which can easily be adapted to a tiny house kitchen or outdoor cooking space.

Cara's book provides great insight into the art of tent camping and makes it accessible for everyone. If you're interested in learning more I recommend buying the book today and following Cara's blog!  You can also follow the Facebook page and join in the conversation.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Revisiting A Day in the Life

Recently I asked for feedback on my Facebook page. What do people want to read about when it comes to my tiny and deliberate lifestyle? One reader asked about a snapshot - a day in the life - of our tiny house.

In October of 2012 I recorded an audio file describing what it was like living in our tiny house day to day. I just gave it a listen and wanted to add a few things that I have learned since 2012. So here is the original recording.

Much of this still applies. I have acquired many more clients in my freelance writing business so I may not be done working until closer to 3 or 4pm. At the same time, I take several breaks during my day to step away from the computer and do other things such as my chores. I also make sure I take time to work on personal creative projects.

Also, I mentioned a specific bar that we went to on Mondays. Unfortunately it closed in December of 2013. However, we are still friends with one of the bartenders so we hang out with her from time to time instead. I also got a job at Bar of Soap and work there one day a week (Fridays). I still really love that place and it is a great resource for anyone without a washer and dryer in their home.

Tiny living for me is about a lot of personal growth. There are so many things I wouldn't be able to do if we hadn't built this place for ourselves.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Tiny Table: Carbonara

There are some meals that you make because they taste good not because you give a flying fig about their nutritional value. Sometimes this is because you're snowed in and you want comfort food to keep you warm. Or maybe you're remembering a family member who is no longer a part of your life. Whatever the reason, it is always a good idea to have a couple easy comfort recipes in your arsenal.

This relatively traditional pasta carbonara recipe is about as easy as a recipe can get and is absolute decadence on your fork.

This is another Pinterest recipe find. I love that site for collecting all manner of fun and interesting recipes. I use to have cookbooks up the wazoo that I never cracked open. Later I just printed out pages from the internet that ended up stuffed into a cabinet when I was done. Pinterest has replaced this and I can follow the steps directly from my hand held device in the kitchen. See, it is an organization tool as much as it is time sink! 

But back to Carbonara!  

You can find the actual recipe here.

It is super easy, though. You can follow these simple directions and have delicious carbonara on your table in no time.

The hardest part is choosing your pasta. We went with linguine but the sky's the limit.

We also used authentic pancetta but thick sliced and chopped bacon will do just fine if you can't find the real thing. 

You need the pasta of your choosing, pancetta, 2 eggs (one whole and one separated egg yolk), grated cheese (either Romano or Parmesan or a combination of both), olive oil, and salt and pepper.

Cook your pasta according to package directions. While that is happening throw the pancetta into a pan with a little olive oil and get it all nice and browned. Once it is done set it aside to cool.

In a bowl combine your eggs and cheese and begin to beat the mixture into submission. Then add your cooled pancetta to the mix.

Drain your pasta and return it to the pan or to a serving bowl. This is where the magic happens. Pour your egg and cheese mixture over the hot pasta.

Now, eat and enjoy! 

I suppose I should add the necessary caution here about eating raw eggs. The idea behind carbonara is that the eggs cook ever so slightly when you add them to the hot pasta, but if the idea of raw eggs doesn't float your boat you can either heat the now coated pasta back up again or, perhaps, avoid this dish all together.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Aging in the Tiny House

A reader over at the Life in 120 Square Feet Facebook Page asked:
Do you view this as a life-long lifestyle, or do you imagine something more traditional as you age/if infirmity were to become an issue? (I ask because I'm so attracted to the homes & lifestyle but already have mobility issues, and have trouble imagining storage and reliability of power simply for medical items) Thank you.
This is a really great question and I wanted to take a stab at answering it.

We started building our tiny house in 2009 at the ripe old ages of 34 and 35. We didn't move into the house until 2012. Ever since we could remember we had been dreaming up different ways to live less conventional lives. The idea of a tiny house was attractive to us for many reasons including being able to build it ourselves without much prior experience and the possibility of living off the grid. We simply wanted to prove to ourselves that we could.

We approached our build from the perspective of relatively healthy 30-somethings. I say relatively healthy because I have asthma which can sometimes affect my ability to walk up my mountain quickly or carry heavy things very far. For the most part my disease is managed well by various medications but it will always be something I deal with. However, the built in hike to our home and the manual labor of day to day chores actually help rather than harm in the long term. At least for now.

Our tiny home was built to be an entry point into a very different life. It gave us an opportunity to reduce expenses, determine what we could live without, and pursue very different forms of employment. We plan to live in it for as long as we are mentally and physically able but the very circumstances around our build probably mean that it won't be the home we live in forever.

We wanted to build our house in the exact center of our land on a mountain. We didn't want to build a road to drive there. We understand that we won't be able to do this if either of us has an injury or a disability. This is a risk we are willing to take to have the reward of living our lives exactly like we want to right now.

Practically, we know our hike to the tiny house won't be feasible forever. We also understand that off the grid systems have limitations. As far as storage - well, that depends on what our needs will be as we age and we just don't know that part yet. I already have enough storage for my current medications. Who knows how that will change in the years to come.

That being said, I firmly believe that tiny living isn't about the exact building you live in but a philosophy and a lifestyle. We may not live in this tiny house forever but we will never again buy a 2700 square foot home either. We understand the value of downsizing and simplifying.

There is an added challenge to our story as well. As a childfree couple we also have to think about who will take care of us as we age. I've recently had the pleasure of meeting and working with community living advocate Marianne Kilkenny and was able to interview her for another blog, The NotMom. Without children to care for us as we age we will need to get creative and the idea of community living or tiny house living or even some combination of both is very attractive to us.

My 39th birthday is just around the corner. I have no idea what my life will look like a decade or two or three from now. I do know that the lessons I've learned from tiny living will be with me for the rest of my life and I can apply them to new modes of living when the time comes.

Friday, February 7, 2014

5 Things I Couldn't Live Without in My Tiny House

Back at the beginning of January I shared a post about the 5 things we couldn't have built our tiny house without. This month I wanted to talk about a few little accessories that we have in our tiny house that we couldn't live without.

Building a tiny house is just one step removed from living in it. With the prevalence of DIY tiny home builders, it is equally as important that people understand how to be comfortable once you're inside it. If you're not, then what was the point? Of course, comfort can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.This is just a short list of some of the accessories that make our tiny house function well for us.

Some of these gadgets are unseen heroes and others are things we use every day. So what are they? Here is my list.

Nesting pots and pans. Space is, undoubtedly, one of the biggest challenges to living in a space smaller than 200 square feet. When we first moved in we had a small set of pots and pans from Ikea but with handles and lids they took up far too much valuable space. So we invested in a really nice set of stainless steel nesting pots and pans. Ours is this set by Magma. I also find the stainless steel very easy to cook with and clean.

Shower head holder. I know this sounds like a bizarre thing to include and obviously this won't apply to everyone with a tiny house, but this teensy accessory makes our shower experience work great for us. The holder is inexpensive and works with a suction cup attaching to the shower wall. Since we opted not to plumb our house and use our air pressurized shower contraption instead, having a place to set the shower head is essential. Depending on your shower, this could be useful for your house as well.

Small vacuum cleaner. We share our tiny house with our cat which also means we share it with our cat's litter box. In the 13 years of living with Piglet I have never managed to teach her how to wipe her paws when she's done. We use a mat to help catch the litter but it isn't perfect. On top of that, because we live on a mountain, we are always tracking something or another into the house even if we take our shoes off at the door. We sweep -- a lot -- but it helps to have a small vaccum to suck up some of the dirt. It also helps keep the FLOR carpet squares clean and neat in our loft.

The Norbo. This tiny table should be the offical mascot of tiny homes. I know about a dozen tiny home owners who use this very table in their homes. In truth, a folding table just like the Norbo would be easy to design and build but why bother when this one is inexpensive and well made? Not only do we use ours for eating meals but also it doubles as my desk since I work from home.

Remote control plug. And finally, one of the best purchases we've made for our tiny house is a remote control plug like this one. Since we don't have air conditioning we positioned the house to take advantage of the natural mountain breezes. A fan placed in the front window over the loft really helps keep the house cool in the summertime. However, the loft isn't the most accessible area of the house. We have to move the ladder from the sleeping loft over to the front storage loft, climb up, turn on the fan, and climb down. Then, if we want to go to bed, we don't have to climb up and down again every time we want to turn the fan on or off. By using a remote control plug we can turn the fan, or anything else plugged in, on and off from any where in the tiny house.

What kind of tiny house accessories do you think are essential? 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Tiny Table: Poor Man's Bibinbap

So, I had a lot of extra eggs. I also recently bought some sriracha and wanted to use it on all the things. I needed a dish I could use both of these ingredients in. The idea: a kind of cheater bibinbap.

What is a bibinbap, you say? 

This Korean dish is typically made up of rice, vegetables, meat, and an egg kind of like a stir fry but not really. Some traditional places serve it in a center-of-the-earth-hot stone bowl. In this case the cooked ingredients are all thrown in with a raw egg on top that is cooked by the time the bowl reaches your table.There is a local Asheville food truck called El Kimchi that services Korean/Mexican fusion (just, trust me) and their bibimbap-to-go is one of my favorite treats.

Bibimbap is delicious and very customizable. Which is why the thought of eggs and sriracha let to "bibimbap!"

My recipe was nowhere near traditional, but it was tasty and easy to make. It pretty much went like this:
  1. Get some stir-fry veggies. We chose broccoli, carrots, and mushrooms. 
  2. Get some meat or other protein. We chose chicken.
  3. Make brown rice. Follow package directions.  
  4. Make a stir fry sauce. We mix stuff like soy sauce, water, honey, and corn starch together. Usually we add chili oil but this time we put sriracha in it. 
  5. Cook. Start with the meat, add the mushrooms. Then broccoli and carrots go in toward the end along with the sauce. 
  6. Fry an egg. Over-easy or over-medium will do so you get that delicious yolk when you cut into it. 
  7. Plate. Throw some rice on a place, add the stir fry, top with egg, artfully decorate with sriracha and dig in! 

This meal does need two fry pans, or you could poach the egg if you prefer. Otherwise, it is an easy meal to cook. Enjoy a poor man's bibinbap next time you're thinking about stir fry.