COOKING BACON ON THE BBQ: WHY I DON’T USE MY STOVE IN SUMMER, AND NEED MOISTURE ABSORBERS IN THE WINTERTIME.
If you’re any sort of follower of food blogs or (gasp!) magazines (Do those even exist any longer? Full disclosure: I still have one magazine subscription, but I’ve been disappointed in it of late, and shan’t be renewing it.), you know that they usually feature comfort foods–stews, roasts, root vegetables, and the like during the colder months; and lighter fare–salads, lightly-sauced pastas, fresh vegetables, and cold meats in the summer. It makes sense. When it’s one hundred degrees outside, we don’t necessarily want a hearty beef stew or a steaming pot of, well, anything. Not only does it make you even hotter to eat such things, but the cooking is more arduous and heat-intensive. No one wants that in the summer. Likewise, while you certainly can (and I do!) eat salads in the colder months, we very often want something that at least makes us think it’s warming us up. I’m a big fan of what has been dubbed “Holy Grains (& Sausage) Soup.” We call it that because the wild rice blend I buy specifically to throw in there has to have the H*## boiled out of it before it’s tender enough to eat. With that much boiling, the logic goes, it must be holy. Whether my facetious logic holds or not, the soup certainly does warm us up in the winter.
Living in a Tiny Home makes the dilemma regarding what to cook (and when) more immediate. I have been known to get up on a chilly morning (we keep our home in the low 60’s overnight in winter; cozy flannel sheets, down comforters, and snuggly husbands are fabulous things), and make a big pot of oatmeal for the kids and me. I do it not just to fill us up and warm our bellies, but because ten minutes of having the stove on warms up my 300 square feet rather nicely. Think about that, though: if cooking a pot of oatmeal makes the house cozy on a winter morning, how much more will cooking supper in August make the house unbearable? I think I may have used my stove to cook supper a dozen times between June and September last year.
So what do you do? You get creative. Stick your bratwurst, garlic, and onions (and beer, of course) in the crock pot, and plug it into the outdoor outlet. Use the side burner on the barbecue to sauté your veggies. Put the barbecue burners on low, and cook your sophisticated pigs in blankets (good sausages, mustard, and cheese in biscuit dough) on a pan with the lid closed, as though the barbecue is an oven. Put bacon on the top rack (and keep an eye on it!) while you cook eggs on the side burner. Plug the induction burner in outside and cook on it. It’s great for everything (not just fried potatoes–those particular potatoes frying in avocado oil (higher smoke point; healthier for frying than olive oil) got the generous SPG (Salt, Pepper, and Garlic) treatment, a good amount of basil, and balsamic vinegar glaze by the time they were done.). Of course, it’s still stinkin’ hot outside, but you’re not turning your home into an oven in its own right. So barbecue those roasted garlic and gorgonzola burgers, and serve them with greens fresh from the garden (I’m sure you’ll hear more about the garden soon. I’m a bit excited about having a real garden this year.) and sautéed onions, mushrooms, and garlic (I cook that often enough–because it’s delicious!!–that it needs an acronym. I think Onion, Mushroom, and Garlic is a far better use for OMG than the current one, don’t you?) We barbecued that asparagus, too. Outdoor cooking isn’t just for special occasions or parties. It’s a way of life.
Last summer, we were facing nearly full west. We had a shade sail out front, but no other protection from the sun. There was a tree that usually managed to cast some shade on the deck by the time I needed to cook supper. The occasional vague breeze and partial shade outside while cooking on my deck was vastly preferable to the sun pounding through the double-pane windows (which only magnify the heat), and then exacerbating the problem by turning the stove or oven on. While the same is true in any traditional house–cooking will only make your kitchen and house hotter–in a Tiny Home, the issue is bigger because the space into which the heat has to dissipate is smaller. Before the summer was over, Forrest had acquired a big piece of shade cloth–the kind farmers use to shade crops. We spread that over the entire Tiny House, with wooden stands on the roof to provide an insulative air gap between the cloth and the roof. It helped, by a few degrees. We will see if we need it again this year, since we are facing east by southeast now.
Temperature control and maintenance is a somewhat different animal for me than for many people. Temperature swings much more quickly in my Tiny Home than in larger spaces with more air to cool (or heat). Last week, I left all the windows open, shut the door, and turned the air conditioner on. I know. “You’re cooling the outside!” But not entirely. With the airflow in this house, I needed to still have circulation while I tried to cool the place. Granted, it’s true spring right now, and not super hot–but it was stuffy inside, and using the air conditioner rather than just the fan feature was quicker. I used less power because of the smaller amount of time needed to make an air exchange in the house that way. There’s also the issue that the air conditioner wasn’t installed in the most efficient spot in the house for properly circulating the air. It was installed in perhaps the most convenient and aesthetic place it could have been installed, but in the case of hot summer, I will err on the side of efficiency rather than aesthetics. These are things you learn when you build your first Tiny Home. Yes. You heard me. I said first. We have discussion and vague plans in the works for another iteration. Don’t get me wrong–I love my home. However, there are things that could be improved, and after almost two years now of living in our Tiny Home, we have some definite ideas for improvement. You can’t figure those things out until you try them, and while our home was very well-thought out and built, there is room (yes, there is room for something in a Tiny Home. Hush.) for improvement. So… we may have a new and improved version of our Tiny Home at some point. I’ll let you know about it if and when it happens.
In the winter, especially a wet winter, we have a different issue. This winter wasn’t as problematic as last year, but last year our area was considerably rainier than usual. We had moisture issues. It is not as though our house was leaky; it wasn’t. The problem was this: it was cold outside, and warm inside. Our wheel wells are uninsulated sheet metal. They intrude on the interior of our house, providing a bridge of metal between cold and warm. It’s a prime spot–even more so than windows–for condensation. We had five people living and breathing in a small space. Exhaling produces moist air, not dry air. With our small space, there was simply not enough dry air in the house to absorb the moisture we produced, especially with the amount of wet outside. We resorted to silica beads (the same stuff that comes in shoe boxes and other random packaged things that absorb the moisture and say, “do not eat” on their little packages). We bought a gallon of the ones that start blue and turn pinkish-orange when they are full of moisture. We borrowed our friend’s oven to slow-bake the moisture out of them and start over (we didn’t want to bake them in our own oven and re-release the moisture back into our air; we figured that would be counter-productive). The picture is of our bedroom window this March, just after sunrise. You can see the condensation all over the left-hand window; this only happened a few times this winter–I think it’s going to be a dry summer. Last year, we dealt with this moisture all over the house for about two months. We wound up with some bits of mildew, because we hadn’t realised it was happening until it was upon us. Now, however, we have a plan and a solution. We know that if we have a wet winter again, we can expect some interior moisture, and be able to combat it as soon as we see it.
Transitioning from a traditional home to a Tiny Home has a definite learning curve. Overall, life is simple here. But some things become more extreme. Heat fluctuation is definitely one of those things. There are some others–some that I’ve mentioned, and some not yet. They’ll come up. In fact, one of my future posts (spoiler alert!) is about thinking outside the box that is your home (Tiny or not). That’s definitely a learning curve that can involve extremes. And so, until next time, happy cooking (more of my own food pictures upon request. I’m happy to talk about my food…), and may your temperatures avoid extremes.