Meals on Wheels: "Camping Spaghetti Sauce"

Therese Ambrosi Smith is a writer- check out her work here. She spent four months constructing a modified Tumbleweed for use as a mobile writer’s studio. She loves cooking and eating as much as she loves writing and building things. One example of a recipe she's cooked in her tiny kitchen - that her guests have loved - is wild rice and mushroom soup. Her regular contribution to this blog, “Meals on Wheels," addresses the challenges and rewards of working in a tiny kitchen. 

I love to invite people to dinner -- I like cooking and eating -- but I also enjoy sharing our tiny house.  Folks with thousands of square feet marvel at the comfort possible in our  286 sq ft home, carved from a single car garage. With leaves in the table, we handily host gourmet meals for eight.

Recently we downsized our office, building a new space based on a Tumbleweed design.  We work efficiently in the 84 sq ft trailer. As an author, I’m trilled to have my workspace double as a mobile retreat and guest cottage.  An inflatable bed and RV toilet are employed when we need to house visitors.

We made the decision to rent the “main” house for income when I decided to live more creatively.  The journey began with shedding a mind-numbing job and the trappings it provided. Designing a functional living space was task one.

Everyone who decides to downsize -  and designs his own house - goes through the very healthy exercise of defining what’s important. We determined that our most used room was the kitchen - and we used it for non-eating activity too -- from conversation to crafts.  The table was central to our plan. 

Tiny Kitchen

We spent as much time planning the space as building it.  Everything we thought we’d need was measured and plotted on graph paper before the first board was cut.  The garage conversion took four months of weekend work and now, after four and a half years --  and a novel and a half  -- I think it was the smartest thing we’ve ever done.

Living small became fodder for fiction.  My first novel “Wax” was about young women coming of age in the shipyards during WWII.  If you’re familiar with the history, housing was in very short supply in war industry towns.  Parking Lot C, in the Kaiser shipyards, became a village of Airstream trailers for the duration.

When “Wax” was nearly ready to print, I was asked to provide two pages of filler. The printer’s final page “signature” is produced in multiples of eight, so my 334 page book was a little short. What would be worth printing?  (Clue: the women are eating spaghetti in two important scenes.)  Sylvia’s Famous Spaghetti Sauce Recipe (As adapted for the two-burner propane stove in Airstream No. 28).

Back home in Kansas City, Sylvia would spend all day on a rich meat sauce starting with garlic and olive oil and cubes of pork and beef shoulder, seared at 475 degrees for half an hour. She’d transfer the meat to a big stock pot with two quarts of broth, veal bones and vegetables. A long, slow simmer in the broth would tenderize the tough but flavorful cuts of meat, and to the whole she would add tomatoes and the remaining seasonings. The sauce would then simmer for another six hours until the meat fell apart. Everyone she treated to a serving of her Famous Spaghetti Sauce said it was the best ever.

She refined her technique — using ground beef — so she could make “Camping Spaghetti Sauce”. In her tiny Airstream trailer, with few cooking utensils, Sylvia did her best to recreate a favorite meal for her friends.

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp unsalted butter

2 Tbsp minced garlic

2 Tbsp minced onion

¼ cup minced carrots

¼ cup minced celery

¾ lb ground meat – can be pork and beef mixed

3 cloves

1 C whole milk

2 C dry white wine

1 28 oz can whole tomatoes packed in juice

1 Tbsp oregano – fresh, minced

one more tablespoon minced garlic

salt to taste

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over a very low flame and add two tablespoons garlic. Simmer the garlic very slowly until tender. The more slowly it cooks, the sweeter it will be.

Add the carrots, onion and celery and sauté until the onions are soft. Do not brown. Add the cloves.

Add the ground meat and stir to heat evenly for about three minutes, until the meat is gray but not browned.

Add the milk and allow it to simmer until evaporated, about twelve minutes; follow with the wine. When the wine has evaporated, add the tomatoes with liquid and the oregano. Allow the sauce to simmer on the lowest possible flame, for three more hours. Thirty minutes before it’s finished, add the final tablespoon of minced garlic. Add salt if desired.

4 Servings  Enjoy!

“The time went by so quickly; we never had a chance to make plans,” Doris said. “When the ships on the line are launched we’ll be sent home too.”

“Now come on girls,” Sylvia said. “This is our last night together in The Land of C. Let’s have a little more optimism. We’ll be at peace soon.” She adjusted the seasonings and gave the sauce a final stir. Her red hair color was starting to fade. “All those love-starved men will be returning to wine and dine you marriage-age treasures. Life will be good,” Sylvia said. She looked at Tilly.

Tilly winced.

Sylvia drained the spaghetti into a bowl and loaded three plates. Then she ladled the rich meat sauce on top.

Tilly took the first bite. She twirled her fork and wrapped the length of the spaghetti around the tines. “Thank you so much, Sylvia. I’ll never forget this meal.”

From “Wax”, by Therese Ambrosi Smith

 

 


 

Written by Guest Blogger — January 08, 2013

Filed under: Build it yourself   cooking   Downsizing   friends   kitchen design   kitchens   stories   tiny kitchen  

My Tiny Semester: Meet Nara

Hi! I'm Nara, Tumbleweed's staff writer.

You might have seen my name on the bottom of recent blog posts, or perhaps you noticed my face looming over a questionable gingerbread house. Now it's time for a formal introduction!

In addition to managing the blog and talking with you lovely people about your tiny house dreams, I'm in the process of finishing college in the glorious liberal woods of Western Massachusetts. For my what you might call my senior project, I have been attempting to dissect a small but crucial slice of the American Dream: The American House. 

Playing TinyPlaying tiny- I had to fend off some small children for this shot 

Beginning later this month, I'll be living in a Fencl on my campus for 120 days. I want to share the benefits and realities of living small, so I'll be writing about my "Tiny Semester" on this blog. I'll also be holding several open houses and informal workshops in the Western Massachusetts area- contact me if you're interested! 

I'm so excited to be a part of Tumbleweed, and to pursue these tiny dreams of my own. One of the things that drew me to Tumbleweed was flexibility. Instead of prescribing one set way to create a structure, Tumbleweed allows for houses and builders of all shapes, colors and sizes. Everyone is encouraged to create their own unique take on a tiny house. 

To me, creating my own tiny house set-up is the ideal way to wrap up my year of studies. I want to create an interactive, influential space on my campus that represents alternative possibilities for housing. This also presents the opportunity to live off-grid, which is an important step for me. With help from my college and fellow students, I've been working hard to develop sustainable, low-impact ways of residing in my tiny house. Hello composting toilet, goodbye refrigerator! 

And as I near my final semester of school, I want to try something different: I want to really, truly have to live with myself. To forgo plastic bins and cardboard boxes of hidden pasts, to be conscious of the line between useful and excessive. I want to address myself piece by piece, taking it apart, discarding the excess, and reassembling in an appropriate, Tumbleweed-sized venue.

I will graduate college all too soon, and I don't want to walk straight into a mortgage. I don't want to be told to buy a house on unrealistic credit and that it's my fault if I can't pay it. I want to joining hands with the young people all over the world that are saying "NO!" to an outdated American dream. 

Watch out for upcoming blog posts. Heads up: I'm packing up my life this week, so it's about to get interesting! 

Written by Nara Williams — January 07, 2013

Filed under: college   Downsizing   friends   ongoing posts   stories   student builds  

Tiny Tree Solutions

This year, my mom decided she'd rather not deal with a Christmas tree. At first, I was crushed-I'm not a Christmas fanatic, but I have some pretty solid positive associations with the smell of pine and the warm glow of colorful lights. 

Then I thought about how crazy it is to buy a dead tree, and how little time we'd actually use it before throwing it in the alley, and how many needles trees leave all over the place. Avoiding all of those complications started to make a little sense. 

Still, I had one remaining objection- I'd made ornaments as Christmas gifts for my family. If we didn't get some kind of tree, we'd have nowhere to display my creative generosity and artistic skill!

I don't live in a tiny house, but I figured that this would be the time for a tiny alternative tree. Here was our compromise: 

Tiny TreeCheck out that style! 

It's actually a rosemary plant, which is pretty great- it smells awesome, and we can put it in our garden in the spring. We found it at Trader Joes for under $10. 

Here are some other tiny tree ideas that I brainstormed. They can support ornaments, smell good, and are cool year round:

-The cut top of a tree, stuck into some foam or a pot of dirt

-A brussel sprout stalk

-A multi-armed cactus

-A bonsai tree

-A beautiful branch

-Other small potted trees- living trees that can be replanted outside are a great idea 

It's probably too late this year, but whether you live in a tiny house, apartment, dorm room, or normal sized space, a tiny tree is a great alternative. To me, my tiny rosemary tree represents simplicity, responsibility, and future possibilities of roasted potatoes. It's about time. 

Written by Nara Williams — December 21, 2012

Filed under: christmas   diy   downsizing   holidays   tiny house decorating   tree  

The "Benefits" of Big House Living

Kendra Pierre-Louis is a writer, researcher, environmental strategist, and author of the 2012 book Green Washed: Why We Can’t Buy Our Way to a Green Planet. Kendra  wishes more people would hop on the small house bandwagon if not for the planet, than at least to cut down on housekeeping time. She can be found online and on Twittter

Despite my strong sustainability credentials, I sometimes feel unqualified to speak out on the evils of big houses.  There is no priest nearby, so it is to you that I make this confession: although I eviscerate the big house trend in my book Green Washed I have never lived in a big house.

My current home, a studio apartment in the New York City borough of Queens spans a spacious 220 square feet, somewhere in between the Popomo and the Bodega. My childhood home – which quite comfortably housed my mother, father and older sister – clocks in at a mere 1,120 square feet. This was totally normal square footage for 1955 when the house was built (though still some 246 square feet larger than the largest of the Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, but positively Lilliputian by modern standards. In 2010 median house size spanned some 2,169 square feet (and that’s after three years of house size deflation).

Kendra's Favorite HouseA view from Kendra’s favorite small house ever – a century old, single story house in rural Vermont

Did I mention these bigger houses also house fewer people?

I confess this fact of my limited exposure to larger homes because it’s easy for us of the small house clan to rest on the intellectual superiority of our position. The science shows that smaller houses require fewer materials to build, require less energy to heat and to cool, and better coexist with the population densities that have been linked to environmentally and socially sustainable lifestyles. And though, a well-designed small house may cost more per square foot to build, they’re cheaper to build and cheaper to maintain.

Check and mate, right?

And yet, lots of people love big houses. As a relatively eco-aware friend once told me, “I grew up in a 4,000 square foot home and it was gorgeous – one day I’ll have a similarly sized home.”

Why yes, we’re still talking.

Maybe, just maybe there’s something we denizens of small abodes are missing.  

Like the experience of being able to talk to our family via intercom like one acquaintance I know who was raised in a large sprawling home in suburban, New Jersey.

In contrast, when my mother wanted me for something she was more old school – she hollered; imagine how much her vocal cords could have been saved by a comprehensive intercom system necessitated by big house living?

Here’s another benefit to big houses– you can host a lot of people.

When a friend needed to host a wide number of friends and family because of a family emergency, a family friend was able to roll out the red carpet courtesy of not one, not two, but of four guest bedrooms.

You never know when you’ll have to host an entire basketball team on a moment’s notice.

Finally, let’s not forget the absolute best thing that large homes afford us: the opportunity to ignore our family members by never, ever, existing within the same space. 

In grad school I lived in a ramshackle cottage with questionable heat and plenty of personality with two other roommates, and it was the first time I noticed this curious trend. Namely, the less house per occupant – uniformly inhabited by strangers who had agreed to live with each other sight unseen courtesy of my grad school’s e-mail list serve – the closer the roommates became over time, even when on the surface they shared nothing in common (i.e. bacon loving, pot smoking, alcohol drinking atheists sharing a place with extremely devout, hijab wearing Muslims).  Small spaces are intimate spaces and force us to get along or go our separate ways.

I’m not saying it’s not possible to have these things in a big house.

It’s just harder.

And that, I think is the most compelling argument for tiny houses isn’t an environmental one – but a social one. 

Written by Guest Blogger — December 08, 2012

Filed under: big houses   bodega   Books   Downsizing   Green Washing   home design   popomo  

Small Kitchen Design Tips

The Best of Small Kitchen Design - The Little Rock Whidbey

Small kitchen design is unique in its need for both functionality and eye appeal. Lindsey Lewis of Little Rock, Arkansas adapted the kitchen in our Whidbey plans and takes high honors in both!

The small kitchen photos below offer great solutions for solving some of the most common small kitchen design dilemmas with stunning results!

Storage is one of the biggest issues confronting the occupant of a small kitchen. Kitchens, by their very nature, require “stuff” – pots, pans, utensils etc.  Storing these necessary items in a way that does not create visual clutter is key. Lindsey’s stunning banquet is a great option.  Linens, large pots and pans, over-sized serving platters or your Aunt Helen's favorite candle sticks will all fit snuggly and out of site in large, neutral colored baskets beneath the seating. 

An island at the center of the kitchen provides additional workspace and another option for covered storage. It has the added benefit of providing space to place items coming out of the refrigerator or, with the addition of a stool or two, a space to socialize with a glass of your favorite Sonoma wine while the meal is being prepared.

Cabinets with glass doors help make small kitchens look larger. In her Little Rock Whidbey, Lindsey uses frosted glass in her cabinet doors and a brightly colored back wall with stunning results. 

Shelves are another common option for kitchen storage. They keep things open and light but come with a few pitfalls. Most designers suggest choosing which items to place on them with great care to eliminate potential clutter. Stark white plates with cherry red bowls and stew pots make the perfect statement next to this sink. Handy hooks for coffee mugs hang below freeing up more cabinet space.

The flooring helps to create much of the character and dynamic of this custom Whidbey. Extending that flooring from the great room through both the nook and kitchen helps maintain the uniformity of the space.

Lighting is an often over-looked aspect of design.  The natural light in this Whidbey is astounding but Lindsey also took care to provide “task” lighting in key areas. Note the lights above the table, island and sink. Carefully assess how you are going to use your space and locate task lighting according to your needs.

Small kitchens do have several things going for them that their larger brethren do not. There is an inherent efficiency in a well-designed small kitchen that no large kitchen can compete with. Everything you need is at your fingertips.

The other advantage a small kitchen has is cost. Because a smaller kitchen is going to use less square footage of counter space and fewer cabinets you will be saving money. Apply the funds to upgrades. High quality counter tops have great visual appeal and wear better over time. Custom cabinetry with high-end pulls and handles add immense value and character.

Congratulations Lindsey on a stunning adaptation of Tumbleweed's Whidbey! Your kitchen is an inspiration! 

For more tips from the number one name in small house design read The Small House Book.  

 

Written by Bernadette Weissmann — November 13, 2012

Filed under: design   Downsizing   home design   kitchens   Whidbey  
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