From My RV Kitchen: Sinful Chocolate Fudge Pie

We encountered a bump in the road two weeks ago, with a catastrophic fuel pump failure in the BFT, stranding us just south of Dallas. Luckily, we were able to have The Toad towed to a park with hookups, so we could live somewhat normally for the duration.

But after five days of trying to keep my spirits up by making lemonade out of our proverbial lemons, I decided I needed something stronger to soothe my soul.

Chocolate.

There are times when only chocolate will do, and this was one of them.

Beware:  This pie is so sinfully rich and intense that you may want to draw the blinds and turn up the volume on the TV to disguise any embarrassing noises or facial expressions you might make while eating it.

Yes, it’s that good. Remember the “I’ll have what she’s having” scene from When Harry Met Sally? That.

Sinful Chocolate Fudge Pie

8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate morsels, melted

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine, softened

3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

3 eggs

2 tsp. instant coffee

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 cup flour

1 cup chopped walnuts

1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Microwave chocolate in microwaveable bowl on HIGH 2 min. or until almost melted, stirring after 1 min. Stir until chocolate is completely melted; set aside. (Alternate: melt over very low heat on stovetop in heavy saucepan, stirring frequently.)

I prefer melting chocolate on my gas stovetop to the microwave method, as I’m less likely to scorch it that way.
You use the method you’re good at.

Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy.

It’s gonna look like this.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating until well blended after each addition.

Add chocolate, coffee, and vanilla extract; mix well.

Chocolate going in.

I used my very precious pure Mexican vanilla, purchased in Mexico on a recent vacation.
You can find it in the states too, but read the ingredient list: if it has anything other than water, vanilla bean and alcohol in it, don’t waste your money. You’d basically be buying vanilla-flavored corn syrup.

Stir in flour and chopped walnuts.

I used walnuts.
You use whatever nuts you like, or leave them out.

Pour into pastry shell.

That nice glossy uncooked batter yields a nice glossy top crust after baking. Underneath it?
Gooey fudgy moan-inducing filling.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until pie appears set. (I used my gas oven for this pie. I have not tested it in my convection oven.) Toothpick test is unreliable. It will come out coated with filling, which is exactly what you want. Don’t be fooled into over-baking!

Cool pie on rack, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Top with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.

My version is adapted from this original recipe.

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

Fridge Foibles: Dealing with the Tiny Space within our Tiny Space

Our 2008 Bighorn was built back in the day before residential refrigerators made it into luxury and four-season fifth wheels.

We’ve got one of the old “glorified dorm fridge” units, and its 8 cubic feet of storage is adequate for just the two of us in most cases, including the time we contributed half the dishes to the family Thanksgiving feast.

But there are occasions when that same amount of space can be either a frustrating curse or an unexpected blessing.

When our 19-year-old, 6’2”, 220-lb son lived with us in The Toad for two months over the summer of 2016: definitely a curse.

I had to play Refrigerator Tetris on the daily to make everything fit in there. Adding a third person to the mix — especially one that size — created an entirely new family dynamic, and not just in the kitchen storage department.

Full means full.

However, when we need to empty the fridge for extended non-RV travel or for a week-long service appointment: definitely a blessing.

If we’re willing to eat a few unusual meals (recently we ate ham and cream cheese sandwiches, because we’d already run out of cheese slices), the two of us can strip that baby down to condiments in less than a week!

Oh, and don’t worry about that wine bottle you see in the door.
I’ll make sure it does not go to waste.

Ta-daaaa!
See there? All that’s left is … ummmm… fruit.

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

How the boys come home, when home is wherever we roam

Not so very long ago, I wrote about what home now means to us.

Now, I’m delving a little further into that concept — and trying desperately hard not to open the Pandora’s Box of parental guilt — by telling you a little bit about what “going home” now means to our sons, who are out of the nest and impressively independent, but still just barely into adulthood.

Our older son is 22, and has been living in WA for more than 3 years. Our younger son turned 20 at the end of February, and has been living in Austin, TX, for about 18 months — the same amount of time we’ve been living and traveling full time in The Toad.

That’s right. As soon as “the baby” left the house, we did too!

That type of move is not without family precedent. My parents sold my family home right after I left the nest (to relocate to another state and another actual house, not an RV), so I do have some clue as to how my own children might feel about not having the same house to come home to.

The big difference? I lived in the same house from kindergarten through senior year, in a small town, with a graduating class of about 150, so it really was my Home-with-a-capital-H.

Our sons, however, are military brats, because of Tim’s 25-year career as a naval officer. They grew up in three sets of military quarters, two houses we rented, and three that we owned. To them, the place we lived in when they left the nest was not the house, but merely a house.

I stood with the boys in front of my childhood home in 2007, 20 years — and an entirely different color — after I’d left it.

As one son put it when I asked how being a military child prepared him for having nomadic parents, “The idea of moving is such a casual thought, all I care about is which time zone you are in.” Not only did that put my heart at ease, it also reminded me how considerate he is to try not to call or text when we might be sleeping.

Always hug your mama, even when the door you walk through to get to her leads into an RV instead of a house.

For us, the short answer to “How do your kids come home” is that they don’t.

With only a few exceptions, we take home to them.

Last winter, we pulled the RV to western Washington for the holidays, so we got to spend time with our older son and his girlfriend, and even hosted them for a couple of overnights. Our RV is “just a house that is close to a different airport each time,” he explained.

It was crowded in here, and it took a fair amount of discussion to explain the many ways we need to be conservative with water use, but we would not have traded that family time for anything.

Last year, we were able to celebrate both boys’ birthdays right here in our home on wheels — one in WA in January, and the next in TX in February.

And when we’re parked in our home base of San Antonio, TX, for a few weeks every six months, our younger son stays with us in the RV for an occasional weekend home from the University of Texas at Austin. He’s a little more blunt about the issue. “I went to college. I don’t care where my parents live,” he said.

Some things about his visits are different than perhaps we’d all expected. For one thing, he gets the RV couch instead of his old bedroom, and for another, he doesn’t bring home his laundry because he’s got a washer and dryer in his apartment. We parents are the ones schlepping our stinkies to the laundromat every week.

But other things are quite similar to the traditional image of having a child home from college:

  • We let him sleep in.
  • He does his homework at the kitchen table.
  • And we often send him back with food, like homemade cookies and rolls, and once, a gallon of our family famous dutch oven chili.

We joke that he can tell his roommates that he stays in his parents’ food truck for the weekend!

Homework at the kitchen table, just like in a sticks-and-bricks

One exception to taking our home with us to visit our sons was when we recently did the reverse by flying our Texas Longhorn to Nevada to stay with us in The Toad for part of his winter break.

So… what do you do when you’ve got a 19-year-old joining you for the RV park’s holiday ugly sweater party? With all the “old” people?

Well.

We tried to come up with an option that took his feelings into account, so I decorated our three sweaters with the words HO, HO, and NO.

Guess who got NO.

And guess who won the ugly sweater contest!

Christmas spirit for the win!

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission. In addition, portions appeared previously here.)

Women behind the RV wheel: Solo journeys, full lives

For Women’s History Month, I caught up with three women who live and travel full time in recreational vehicles on their own, and by extension, on their own terms.

No, I didn’t actually follow them on the road and wave at them to pull over. I simply harnessed the power of personal connections, social media, and e-mail to learn more about these women, and why they chose this nomadic lifestyle.

Janet is a Heartland owner who tows a 2015 Cyclone 4114, with three canine travel companions (Abby, Boomer, and Freddie). She is a retired police officer, and has been full-timing since February of 2016.

Janet

Kelly, of www.rvchickadee.com, pulls a 24’ 2010 Crossroads Slingshot travel trailer, under close supervision of “the girls,” doggies Trixie and Gizmo. She has been on the road since May of 2015, working as a digital nomad, and is currently creating an RV review web site.

Kelly

Viktoria, of www.smallrvlifestyle.com, has been traveling the country in a 20’ Ford Majestic Tourer II since April of 2016. She too works as a digital nomad, creating lead-generating web sites.

Viktoria

Each of these women took time off the road to respond to a few of my most burning questions, and to send me photos to help make this story more personal. Their answers have been edited for length and clarity.

So… why an RV?

Janet had an epiphany after a family tragedy. “About 2 ½ years ago,” she said, “my middle younger brother passed away from a heart attack. It occurred to me at his memorial that no one in our family, Mom or Dad’s side, has lived past 66.” That, plus an untenable situation at work then caused Janet to realize that maybe waiting until 65 to retire wasn’t such a good plan for her. “I decided I did not need to be tortured for 7 more years to die a year later. I spent a year researching RV’s and the lifestyle, and decided it would work for me! Took another 6 months to find the right RV, then 5 months to prepare and sell the house. Escrow closed and I was on the road!

Kelly, in keeping with her minimalist approach to living, went with the most direct response.Because I can!”  Boondocking (self-contained camping, without power, water, or sewer hook-ups) is a key part of her travel strategy. “There’s no better or cheaper way to live nomadically,” she said. “I only boondock, so I get to live rent-free. Also,I love to wake up and only have to take about 5 steps to get all the way across my house to open the blinds! It’s awesome. I am not sure I could ever live permanently in a house again.”

Viktoria is originally from Hungary, but has lived in four states since moving to America 16 years ago, eventually ending up in California. “I always loved road trips, and I’ve been to most of the states by car,” she said. “RVs are very popular in California, and I really wanted one, but it seemed so inaccessible and expensive.” After a romantic relationship broke up, Viktoria knew she couldn’t “live the normal everyday life anymore,” and decided to buy an RV she’d found on Craigslist. “It was a big purchase, and I was so excited, but everything went smoothly.”

What is your favorite resource for RV information?

Janet: The Heartland Owners’ Forum has been a lifesaver for me, as I had never RV’ed before and have had questions on everything!

Kelly: I would have to say Campendium.com. It’s the resource I use the most to look for my next stop.

Viktoria: I use RVillage and Xscapers.

Describe your most triumphant RV moment.

Janet: Accomplishing things “experts” told me I could not do. Best feeling was re-designing the living room of my RV. I love how it is now!

Kelly: I have two. The first was boondocking all by myself in the middle of nowhere with no other RVs or lights in sight. My only company was my girls. It gave me the heebie-jeebies but I wasn’t scared of people — it was the boogeyman! The other triumphant moment was when I had a mouse in my trailer. I didn’t want to kill it, so guess what? I simply let it out.

Viktoria: When I first started going on weekend trips, and I learned how to handle my RV, it was pretty much a great feeling that I can do this.

Viktoria and Kelly really did meet up on the road!
Both are on Instagram: Small RV Lifestyle and RV Chickadee

How about your most embarrassing RV moment?

Janet: It was my very first trip, pulling into the RV park, at night, having 4 spotters I did not know and, while focusing on them and trying to interpret what they were signaling me to do, unknowingly cutting the corner of the roadway and sliding the driver’s side of my RV along a light pole and knocking it catty-wampus! Fortunately, they were able to straighten it with someone else’s truck.

Kelly: This would have to be the time I crossed Snoqualmie pass in a blizzard with a friend. I was totally positive my truck had front wheel drive, so we put the chains on the front tires. All went well in the blizzard until the incline got a little steeper — and my truck’s butt end started sliding. That’s when my error hit me. We had to stop in the middle of the interstate and put them on the back tires with traffic whizzing by us at about 35 mph. Totally embarrassing!

Viktoria: I guess I don’t have a very embarrassing RV moment. I don’t like it when things are moving around in the RV, and sometimes I leave doors open by accident. Once my 2-gallon water pitcher fell and broke while I was driving on the highway, and water was all over the place. That was not my favorite moment.

What do you see as your legacy for other women seeking an independent and/or adventurous lifestyle?

Janet: My legacy is just being part of this group of women who demonstrate you can do it on your own successfully, even though I think we have a harder time dealing with both sales and service at RV dealerships. That being said, I am also ever grateful for all the RV’ers who have been there to help me when I needed it. They will be proud to know I have been able to pay that forward as I learn.

Kelly: Well, I certainly don’t see myself as a leader or a trailblazer. However, I am aware that I am in the minority as not many women do this solo. If you are a woman looking to do this, just know that it will likely be the best decision you’ve ever made. You only regret the things you don’t do in life!

Viktoria: Legacy? I just want more working age people out there. I want them to see how free life can be. Even if you are solo, it is fun. If you have a wandering soul, don’t be afraid to try it. You will never know how it is without trying it.

Well-behaved women seldom make history.  ~ Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)

RV Travels: Where the Wild Things Are

~ a post in honor of World Wildlife Day, March 3 ~

Although we’ve encountered lots of creatures while RV’ing around the country in The Toad, the only Bighorn we’ve seen in the wild is the one we live in. Notoriously shy, those sheep!

Look! A Bighorn in the wild!

Most animals were outside the RV, living unperturbed in the environments where they belong — at least until I showed up and became the Annoying Human Taking A Selfie.

There was one notable exception. I don’t like talking about it, and I’m not sure it even qualifies as wildlife, but it definitely wasn’t a domesticated critter, and it was living inside our RV. I’ve got to work myself up to that one, so I’m saving it for last.

The others, in alphabetical order:

Armadillo – I’ve spent enough time driving in the Lone Star State to know exactly why these armored gray diggers are called Texas Speed Bumps. Yeah. Ewwwww. But I found a live one in Shreveport, LA, during an overnight stay at the Barksdale Air Force Base RV Park, so of course I positioned myself for a discreet selfie. The armadillo did not say no.

April 2016

Bison – This guy was blocking our path to Frary Peak, the highest point on Antelope Island, in Utah’s Great Salt Lake. “Bison encounter” was one of those bucket list items I didn’t even know I had until I experienced it, and I wrote about it here. We’d been warned by multiple signs not to approach or feed the bison, but the signs didn’t say anything about begging them repeatedly to get out of the way, so that’s what we did. I think the poor bugger eventually got tired of listening to us, and trotted down the hill toward the females.

July 2016

July 2016

Burros – Wild burros are a common sight in rural western Nevada, and this group took their own sweet time crossing the road to the Rhyolite Ghost Town near Beatty.

January 2017

Cat & Deer – Yes, together, and I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself. There’s a posse of feral cats at Kerrville-Schreiner Park in Texas, and we watched them interact with the deer on several occasions. Most of the time, each regarded the other in some bizarre form of woodland creature détente, but we once witnessed one of the kitties deliberately baiting one of the deer by sneaking up behind it and pouncing. The deer was not amused.

February 2017

Elk – There we were, walking along a paved path on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, when I was able to take advantage of a unique opportunity: sELKfie for the win!

October 2016

Fox – We were driving to a trailhead in Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon with fellow Heartland Owners, Dan & Lisa of Always on Liberty, when we saw this fox trotting across a parking lot. What does the fox say? I can’t tell you. What I said was, “A fox a fox a fox!” It’s very difficult to remain eloquent when faced with such a rarity.

December 2016

Llama – On one of our first trips in The Toad, we went to Blanco State Park in Texas for a weekend escape. I was supposed to be guiding Tim as he backed the rig into our spot, but it took more than one try because — and I am not making this up — I was distracted by a llama. It kept grinning at me, I swear. See?

November 2014

Whale – While visiting family in western Washington, we drove our whale of a rig onto the Port Townsend – Coupeville Ferry to get from one side of Puget Sound to the other, and were rewarded with a visit from a pod of orcas, right off the bow. So majestic!

December 2015

Wild Ponies – The highest point in Virginia is Mount Rogers. To get to it, we hiked through Grayson Highlands State Park, which is home to a herd of wild ponies. I tried for a selfie with one of them too (it’s what I do) — and became a victim of what can best be described as “pony shenanigans.” While I posed with Pony A, Pony B took advantage of my distraction and tried to eat my backpack. Emily = stupid human.

October 2015

 

And now…

The Thing That Ate My Pastry Brush – We had a critter in the RV last fall.

Based on the droppings we found, we were pretty sure that cockroaches were afoot (although it could have been a mouse), but whatever it was, it nibbled. the bristles. off. my silicone. pastry brush. Ack!

Nothing like spending an evening researching various types of vermin poop to make a girl feel sexy. I seriously though I was going to throw up, and contemplated bathing in boiling Purell, but instead set about cleaning and disinfecting every reachable surface in our kitchen.

And then I set out dishes of a vermin-eradicating cocktail composed of equal parts powdered sugar and Borax. Success! Emily = smart human.

October 2016
See the middle finger? Unintentional, but oh so hilarious!

To learn more about the real World Wildlife Day, visit http://wildlifeday.org

(Author’s note:  a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)