Cooking Off the Grid with Tiny House, Tiny Footprint

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“Cooking Off the Grid” is a new series we’re launching that explores how people cook while traveling. From backpackers to car campers, we’re interviewing people about their off the grid kitchens and what it’s like preparing meals without the conveniences of a traditional kitchen. We hope this series will be a resource and inspiration for everyone interested in cooking in the outdoors. 

Kathleen and Greg, the Colorado couple behind Tiny House, Tiny Footprint, have spent the past 14 months living in a vintage 60’s camper trailer with their dog, Blaize.

They recently bought a cabin on some land in the mountains; while not 100% “off the grid” (they can run power from the cabin to the camper), the camper is a true experiment in minimal and low impact living.

We caught up with them a few weeks ago while we were in Colorado and were immediately drawn to their welcoming and generous nature, their passion for community building, and their ability to inspire others to minimize their footprint and reconnect with nature.

Learn more about Kathleen & Greg’s experiences cooking in a camper kitchen in the interview below!

thtf-7Tell us a little about your home and how you came to live there

Greg and I live part time in a 1969 camper trailer. We share 140 square feet with our dog, Blaize.

Rewind to a year and a half ago. Greg and I were living in an apartment together in the city. When our lease came to an end, we both started to crave the same things. We wanted a backyard, we wanted to travel more, but most of all, we wanted to save money.

Greg wanted to live in a van and I wanted to live in a tiny house. To compromise, we chose a camper trailer. After browsing several Craiglist ads, we found a vintage camper for sale and drove a few miles to go visit it. We always go with our gut and so, when we stepped inside our camper, it lit a fire within us. The camper is our goldilocks house because it was the perfect size between a van and a tiny house. And the price was right. For two months of rent in the city ($1,800), we were able to buy our tiny home on wheels.

>thtf-10Describe your kitchen set up

Since cooking in our camper, we’ve really started to observe kitchen spaces in other homes. And what we found is that our camper kitchen isn’t much different in size than a standard house kitchen. We might have a little less counter space, but we’re still fortunate to have four burners and an oven (even though it’s on the small size). We also own a toaster oven that we plug in to heat something up on the go.

We always keep a cast iron skillet and a cast iron pot on the stovetop. A cutting board, spatula and wooden spoon are always handy as well. We built a two-level spice rack that houses everything from sea salt to chocolate chips.

thtf-5Has your cooking style changed at all since living in a small space? How?

Those who live small probably have a similar outlook when it comes to cooking. In a tiny house, you can only own so many items before you run out of space. The kitchen operates the same way. We use a few essential kitchen items and tend to make meals with less than 10 ingredients.

We have learned to dance around each other while the other one cooks. It’s always best to stay out of the way of the person with the kitchen knife (or so Greg tells me when he’s chopping). We really don’t cook any meals where two people have to be doing something at the same time.

thtf-4What do you find to be most gratifying about cooking in a small space?

Before living small, I felt guilty because we wasted so much food we never used. In the camper, we don’t have room to store too many items. So because of that, we only buy and use what we need.

We’ve had to adjust to going to the grocery store more often, but there’s a huge payoff in having fresh fruits and vegetables daily. We also started composting and enjoy distributing our food scraps on our garden. In a few months, we will get some chickens, and I’m sure they will enjoy our leftovers as well.

thtf-6What’s the biggest challenge you encounter cooking in your camper kitchen, and how do you overcome that challenge?

We don’t operate a refrigerator inside our camper because it uses too much energy. Instead, we have an outside refrigerator that we store items in. It’s difficult to want to go outside in the wintertime and bring food back and forth. It can be especially frustrating when it’s dark outside and you’re trying to find your way. We keep a mini cooler in our camper with ice packs in it and use that sometimes when we don’t feel like going outside. But the easiest solution for us has been trying to find meals that don’t require refrigeration.

thtf-essentialsWhat are your five essential kitchen items?

Cast iron skillet (because you can cook anything on it and it never disappoints)
Oven Mitt (because the cast irons get really hot!)
Lighter (we run propane in the camper and can’t get our little stove going without a working lighter)
Spatula (how else would we be able to flip pancakes?)
Wooden Spoon (for stirring vegetables or pasta)

What is one item in your kitchen that might be excessive but you know you can’t live without?

Definitely garlic and avocados! Greg adds garlic to every meal we eat and I’m always down for a ripe avocado. Unfortunately avocados are heavy and are not ideal on most camping trips, so garlic usually wins on most occasions.

If you could add one more item to your kitchen, what would it be?

A cast iron dutch oven! We recently tried to make lasagna and found it’s hard to cook those thick noodles in our tiny pot.

It’s funny you ask, because we’re actually searching for one of these right now. We have some friends that own a consignment shop in Laramie, Wyoming, so we asked them to keep their eyes peeled for one to come through their store. When it does, we’re prepared to snatch it up for a bargain price.

thtf-11What meal do you keep coming back to?

Vegan potato pancakes! We have been laughing about it because it doesn’t come across as very tasty in our photographs. In fact, they almost look like beef patties to the naked eye.

But we like them nonetheless because we can make them with few ingredients, all of which don’t need to be refrigerated. It’s a pretty convenient go-to meal when we’re on the road.

Tiny House Tiny Footprint’s Vegan Potato Pancakes

4-5 potatoes, chopped/grated into small pieces
2-3 cups of chopped green onions
¼-1 cup flour, depending on how much moisture you have remaining
1 tsp. baking powder
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine all the ingredients in large bowl.
2. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Use a ladle to scoop potato mixture onto the skillet and spread into 1/8-inch thick patty. Repeat. Fry patties 3-4 minutes per side or until golden brown. Cook remaining latkes in batches of two, adding one tablespoon of oil to skillet each time.
2. Serve with sour cream (vegan if preferred) or applesauce.

thtf-12What is your one trick that makes cooking easier for you?

In the beginning, we tried to be creative every night with different dinner ideas. But we found we were buying ingredients we never used again and it was taking us several hours to prep and learn a new dish. After working all day, the last thing we wanted to do was spend all our time together cooking.

So instead of wasting food and energy, we now stick to meals we enjoy and use similar ingredients. For example, in the morning, we like making eggs and adding any vegetables we might have. As a snack, we throw some frozen fruit in a blender. And for dinner, we enjoy salads because we can also throw any remaining vegetables or fruit in there.

It’s a simple system for us, but it works because we know what we like and all the food we buy gets used along the way.

thtf-8 thtf-9 thtf-13Tiny House, Tiny Footprint shares stories about people “living small” on their blog. You can also find them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

All photos courtesy of Tiny House, Tiny Footprint.