June 28, 2013

Guest Post! Primitive RVing: Skunk Pizza

One of the advantages to this military lifestyle is making fabulous friends wherever you go. On the other hand, one of the biggest disadvantages is that we also say 'see ya later' more often than we wish. The Hubs and I have so many wonderful friends, all of us scattered to different points around the globe. The hope is always that we'll be stationed together again, and if not... well, we visit whenever we can! 

One of my best pals (and her hubs), transitioned back to civilian life not too long ago. They've embarked on a fabulous new adventure as RV enthusiasts and military retirees. Totally living the dream!

Abby is my blogging inspiration, my photog buddy, and an excellent confidant. We still 'yak' when the opportunity arises, and share our lives with each other. True friends aren't separated by distance, they just find ways around it. I'm so glad I found such an excellent friend in my Abby.

Today, she agreed to guest post for me, sharing one of her RVing recipes for the rest of us. I am always in awe of how easily Abby adjusted to life in an RV. And how many delicious meals she can make in such a confined space! Keep reading for a peek into Abby's world, and her post-military life:    

Skunk Pizza

When I think culinary, I picture a huge kitchen with many beautiful appliances, delicious aromas, fresh herbs for seasoning, and graters for a sprinkle of parmesan. Heck, I picture Allison’s house. I don’t picture the miniature kitchenette inside an RV.

My RV kitchenette (don’t blink or you’ll miss it)

 But I’m a full-time RVer. I traded in the luxuries of a house to explore America in a 28-foot Class C motorhome. The amenities of full kitchens are in the past. My place to play chef is this: TINY.

So that must mean for delectable food, I’d have to raid Allie’s house (believe me, I have) because otherwise my dinner menu would center around s’mores and tinfoil packages of freeze dried food found in the camping section of retail stores, right? Nope! I can make it all in my kitchenette. When I’m craving a certain something-or-other, with a little creativity, I can make it.

Pizza was on the menu tonight. While out hiking in the Ouachita National Forest, my husband, Paul, took a pretty good tumble, so he deserved some comfort food. After all, he had done the same for me after I’d sprained my ankle and had to hobble back down Elk Mountain. Pizza really is great comfort food, isn’t it?

First thing was first to make pizza: The crust. Allison has mentioned before that I had made pizza dough for her and the Hubs back in El Paso, but the secret to that dough had been that I used a bread maker. Primitively camped there in the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas, we didn’t have electricity, so using my bread maker wasn’t an option unless I started up the noisy generator. So I opted to make the concoction with my own two hands.

Making pizza dough

My crust would be an “artisan crust” (my lingo), which would have texture and consistency of something between a thin crust (my favorite) and a traditional crust (Paul’s preference). Marriage is about compromise, right? First I mixed my dry ingredients: One cup of flour, a quarter cup of grated parmesan cheese, a teaspoon of baking powder, and a pinch of sea salt. After blending the mix, I added the wet ingredients: Two tablespoons of olive oil, two tablespoons of sour cream and a quarter cup of hot water (with a little extra on hand if the mix seemed too dry). With the world-traveled tea kettle and my propane stove, boiling water was a cinch. No cavewoman fire-lighting skills needed.

While I mixed my ingredients and kneaded the dough, my dogs, George and Emma, who were tied outside, let out a few barks. I appreciated our seclusion in the Ouachita National Forest. We were the only campers at Knoppers Ford, so no one would be bothered by barking dogs, and our “backyard” was the beautiful, wide open forest.

Emma and George outside our campsite at Knoppers Ford Recreation Area

When my dough was ready, it was moist to the touch, but not sticky. I plopped the ball onto my pizza pan and began to spread it. In an RV many essentials take on a mini form. My rolling pin is one of them (though I do miss my marble pin for home defense!). After spreading it, I poked the dough with a fork to so that it wouldn’t get bubbles in the crust, and I pre-baked it for three minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit so the dough looked as though it was just beginning to dry.

Now it was on to the topping. Instead of traditional pizza sauce, I wanted something a little “foo-foo” (that’s a Paul term) like pesto. Confession: I’m not that awesome. My pesto would only be an illusion. To create it, I mixed two ingredients, dried basil and olive oil. Cool, huh? Okay, not so much, but it would still be tasty, even if it was actually non-pesto.

Pesto illusion

Here’s the deal about full-time RVing. An RV is short on space, which isn’t conducive to lugging kitchen appliances. We  agreed only two appliances could move into the RV with us: Paul chose the coffee maker and I chose my bread maker. The food processor went into storage. Food storage is also limited, so I make shortcuts (dried seasoning is easier to store than fresh, for example) and keep only the essentials around. By leaving the land of housing and suburbia, I’ve also forfeited my quick access to grocery stores when I have a craving. Way out in the American backcountry, the stars were bright, the air was fresh, the coyotes howled, and we were next to nature. To me that’s an okay trade for pesto.

As I spread the "pesto" on my crust with a rubber brush, the dogs’ barking escalated to full-blown carrying-on. Obviously, cooking is a horribly inconvenient time to be interrupted by boisterous dogs—unless the said cooking has an interruption that smells like…


This next step in pizza making is very important. Save the dogs. I hauled out into the dark and shoved the dogs back into the RV after two quick sniff tests. Lucky for me, the skunk had only fired a warning shot out of reach of the dogs’ ties. So that’s why this is called “skunk pizza.”

Somebody tell Emma and George that an RV isn’t really big enough for horse play

Excited, the dogs wrestled on the floor shaking the RV like there was an earthquake while I went on preparing the toppings…until the skunk fume dissipated and the aroma of bacon frying filled the camper. Then I had their full interest. “Sorry doggies. Bacon is for people.”

The pizza toppings I chose were thin sliced tomato, diced onion, chopped bacon and kale. The kale might sound crazy, but I promise it’s yummy, kind of like spinach on pizza is. I used only light, leafy pieces, which gave an extra pizazz of flavor, but wouldn’t be overpowered by crunch (that’s the bacon’s job) or fiber of the stems.


The next step was my favorite part, grating cheese. I am a cheese freak, so it’s a wonder how any actually made onto the pizza itself! Allison has taught me a lot when it comes to skills in the kitchen, and I put to use some of her advice making this pizza: Grate your own cheese. Cheese that comes pre-grated and packaged is kept separated and loose by corn starch, which takes away from the moisture in the cheese. Trust me, Allie is right that a pizza with freshly grated is better. Not a little better. All the way better.

Grating cheese

 As you can guess by my rolling pin, the cheese grater I have for RVing is also compact; it’s a handheld grater. Handheld graters are intended to be used for a sprinkle of parmesan, not an entire block of mozzarella, so my job was time consuming, but well worth it. Once grated, I sprinkled it over my toppings. I added a little bit of dried seasoning, garlic, red pepper and cilantro, and the pizza was ready to bake.

My little RV oven was just the right size for a pizza big enough for two. I baked it on the top rack at 425. Because not all ovens are created equal, the cooking time can vary, and my recipe needed between twenty and thirty minutes. I pulled mine out closer to thirty when the cheese was beginning to golden. I confirmed the crust was ready by using a spatula to test. It lifted on the side without sticking to the pan and without seeming floppy. Time to serve and gobble.

And there you have it: Cooking in an RV isn’t much different than in a house! And it tastes just as delicious. Dishwashing on the other hand…well, just appreciate your dishwasher for me when you clean up after dinner. Happy travels!

The finished product

I'm sure you enjoyed this fun recipe for cooking in a small space, and adapting your needs to suit the environment. If you'd like to keep up with Abby and all her RVing adventures, please check out her blog at 1,000 Miles On My Own Two Feet. You won't be disappointed!

As always, happy cooking my friends! Though I'm crazy busy planning our current PCS move to Germany, I'll be back soon with plenty more recipes and adventures to share.

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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June 11, 2013

Guide to Fort Bliss: Best (and Worst) Restaurants, Part 2

I know, I know... I've been really slow putting this guide together. If I am super sorry, will you please forgive me? I've got a good excuse, I swear!

You see, the Hubs and I recently received some interesting news... we're moving to Germany! Exciting, isn't it? We are both thrilled beyond words. However, along with the excitement comes a bit of panic. I never realized how much was involved in an OCONUS move before (for my civilian pals, OCONUS means "outside of the contiguous United States").

For several weeks, I've run around like a chicken with my head cut off. The army isn't exactly forthcoming with all the information you want/need. But, I finally feel like I'm back on an even keel, and can devote some time to these guides before we are no longer members of the Fort Bliss community. Also, I've been keeping track of our overseas moving craziness, so there will eventually be a PCSing guide here too. Bonus!

Let's see... In Part 1 of this guide, we talked about the best and worst Mexican/Tex-Mex restaurants, as well as the best and worst Steakhouses. I think this time we'll concentrate on BBQ and Delicatessens. What do you think?

Always keep in mind that these guides probably have an expiration date, and I can't really tell you when that will be since the Hubs and I will be moving soon. Times change, and so do restaurants. A new owner or manager can make a huge difference, both good and bad. By the time you find your way here to this guide, some of these places may have closed and newer, better places may have opened. Please forgive me for any discrepancies. And feel free to add to this guide! Contact me via email, comment below, or reach out to me on Facebook. Let's help each other.

Best and Worst Restaurants (Fort Bliss and surrounding areas), Part 2 


Texas is known for its fabulous BBQ. Depending on what region you're visiting in Texas (east, central, south, or west), the flavors can vary greatly. I was very much looking forward to testing BBQ here in El Paso, and I wasn't disappointed. Here are the restaurants that make the best grades:

1. Rudy's - This makes the top of my list, because I loves it! There are two El Paso locations, and the Hubs and I stop in whenever we are close by. Since my pal Becky moved away though, we haven't eaten there (she lived close to one, so it was always convenient to pop in there). The west side location is attached to a gas station, which may seem weird, but don't let that deter you! The food is excellent. And don't forget to ask for your military discount (also a huge plus in their favor. I prefer supporting establishments which support our troops).

The online reviews praise the consistency of this joint, always a bonus in my opinion. Since there isn't "service" to speak of (you order at the counter and the food is brought to the pick up area on a tray), there are no worries about a bad waitress experience. This is great for a delicious, simple meal with your hubs and kids.

2. Chubb's BB-Q - Reasonably priced, with smashing reviews, I think this is a great place to check out! I can't comment with personal experience, sadly. The location is apparently somewhat hidden, a true "hole-in-the-wall" spot. So use your GPS if you're having difficulty finding the storefront. I'm not sure of their range, but Chubbs' also delivers! Since their only issue seems to be limited parking, delivery may be the way to go. I'm not sure if they offer a military discount, so please comment at the end of this post if you have any info on that.

Reader submitted photo, from Tiffany

One quick note, from an excellent reader: "Add to your blog that if Chubbs is not busy, they close early, so call ahead." Also, while the BBQ is an A+ rating, the dessert leaves something to be desired. Thank you Tiffany for the comment, update, and the photo!

3. Aloha Hawaiian BBQ - Although this isn't your typical Texas BBQ, I feel it deserves a mention here based on all the good reviews. The original location is on the East Side off of Zaragoza Road. I have yet to eat here, but it's on my El Paso bucket list! This isn't a sit-down, fancy place... more like a higher class type of quick, fast food. Good for lunch, or grabbing an easy dinner after a late day.

4. Johnny's Pit BBQ - The reviews here are few and far between, but almost all of them are positive. Carrying a whopping 90% on Urbanspoon, I figure this restaurant is worth a mention. Their most famous of dishes is the "Big Johnny", an El Paso-style brisket sandwich. They also offer delivery, a nice plus, though I'm unsure of their range. Please comment if you've eaten here, or have any additional information to offer!

5. The State Line - The Hubs and I enjoyed dinner here thanks to some wonderful friends, Pat and Jackie. I would feel bad putting this in the ho-hum category, because we had a great evening, with good service on a busy night. I feel the need to add, however, that recent online reviews have been somewhat poor. Since we went some time ago, it's possible the quality of food and service has declined. If anyone has been here recently, I'd love to hear about your experience!

Image from Stateline website

Now, I'd like to talk about those restaurants which have some mixed reviews, and some of which are just terrible. I apologize in advance if your favorite restaurant is on this list, but feel free to defend it in the comments section. I'm placing these here based on personal experience (of myself and others), reader comments, and online reviews. 

1. Famous Dave's - Let me preface this review by saying, I know there are a lot of people who love Famous Dave's... and I don't disagree with them. The food is generally consistent, service is decent, and the atmosphere is good. The only reason I'm including them here is for one simple fact: This is a chain restaurant. And although that doesn't make the food bad, I could also eat here if I was in Virginia versus El Paso. Famous Dave's is everywhere. So I highly suggest trying some of the local flavor first, but don't forget a good standby like this.

2.  Smitty's BBQ -  Although the restaurant has some good reviews, a large portion are negative complaints about the food and service. An old-school atmosphere isn't necessarily a bad thing, but if the food doesn't measure up, then I'm not interested.

3. Smokey's Pit Stop -  With several locations around El Paso, the reviews vary. Although the menu appears reasonably priced, it seems the food reflects that price. Many complained of dried out meats, with little flavor. I would be caution against eating here, but please let us know if you had a different experience!


After moving here from the East Coast (and with much of my family being native New Yorkers), I was extremely disappointed by the deli situation in El Paso. Of course, I knew nothing would quite measure up to the taste of home, but I expected more than there was. Luckily, after some time living here, there are a few places that may not be "just like home", but they're pretty dang good.

1. Spec's - This isn't just a deli. It's also a wine, cigar, and liquor shop. Plus meats and cheeses, oh my! With an outrageous 96 % rating on Urbanspoon, Spec's gets my vote as the best deli in El Paso.

Image from Spec's website

Normally I wouldn't choose a chain as my top pick (I prefer local), but the food here really outdoes them all. There are three locations in the area, two on the west side and an eastside express location. Have any of you visited the "express" Spec's? If so, let us know how it was! I've yet to visit. So, whether you're in search of a cool gift, a specialty food item, or a great sandwich (or wine! or cigars!), then this is a place for you.

1. Brown Bag Deli - located close to Main Bliss, this is a convenient lunch stop if you're living on post. And if you're not, this is still a great place to enjoy a sandwich! A traditional "hole-in-the-wall", the service, food, and portion sizes are routinely praised. Though I love Spec's, Brown Bag Deli is such a close second that they can't really be separated in my mind. I call a tie for #1 (and you thought my numbering was a typo)! Definitely a must-eat stop on your El Paso adventure.

3. Pike Street Market - Who knew there could be so many delis in El Paso with such fabulous reviews??! Pike Street Market, located in downtown El Paso, is another deli with an excellent reputation. I haven't been here personally, but the menu appears interesting and reasonably priced. The one downside I see is they are closed on weekends. So if you want lunch at this deli, make sure it's during the week or you will be disappointed.

4. Jason's Deli - A new addition to the El Paso food scene, I had to include Jason's here. Despite the fact they are a chain, and not exactly a true deli, there are several great features that I wanted to mention. #1 - who doesn't love free soft serve ice cream with every meal?! That's right, baby. Free ice cream. Fabulous when you want to eat somewhere quick with your kids. #2 - They deliver. Granted, there is a small deliver fee based on your location. But, they are also one of few places that deliver something other than pizza or Chinese. Keep in mind, though, that you must either pay with credit over the phone or have exact cash for your delivery person. They don't carry change, so don't expect any back!

With all that said, the food itself is pretty decent. It's nothing I would write home about, but it's good and filling. Jason's also offers a salad bar, which I love. And they offer good variety. If you want a sandwich and the hubs wants pasta and your kid wants salad... well, you can find it all here.

5. Kipps Cheesesteak - Though this is not a "deli" per say, I felt the need to include it here. I haven't been myself, so I can't give a personal opinion, but so many of you recommended Kipps I couldn't not include it. I'm a pretty tough critic when it comes to cheesesteak (it dang well better be traditional Philly style!), but they seem to be getting it right. Reviews are mixed, with the primary complaints being about the cheese (whiz style), and the bread (too crumbly). If you're hankering for a cheesesteak, I say try it out and pass your review on to us!

And now for the bad news....

I only have two places on my warning list, and I'm sure the first one will have many of you up in arms. I'm going to apologize in advance, ok? But read my reasons before you blast me please. Someone had to rank lower than others, and I made the tough choice. It was rough. But necessary.

1. Corner Bakery - Don't start throwing things at me!!! I know many of you love Corner Bakery. I've eaten here myself, and I enjoy it, ok? Unfortunately, I can never seem to move past the fact that it's not Panera Bread. I'm including Corner Bakery on my not-so-great list as a warning to those of you who expect it to be Panera.

Because it's not.

Sure, the two are similar. Similar food, similar style, similar service. But it's just not the same, I'm sorry. If you enter Corner Bakery with no Panera-like expectations, you will be happy. Your sandwich will be delicious, your pastry yummy. But if you start comparing.... poof! All your happiness will disappear.

For my fellow Panera friends, you've been warned.

2. Chubby's Bronx Deli -  Let me just start with this... the original link I found for this deli didn't work. The link here is to their Facebook page. Why didn't the link work? Apparent non-payment. At least that is what the website announced when I tried to navigate to it. This alone doesn't bode well for Chubby's.

Once I start examining the reviews, I realize there are many complaints. Poor service, poor value, and a hit or miss on the flavor. Though they serve Boars Head meats, which generally equals quality, it appears their sandwiches don't always match the standards of their meat. I haven't been here, but there are other places I would want to try above Chubby's. If you've been, give a shout out and share your experience.

So, that concludes Part 2 of our best and worst El Paso restaurants. More posts are coming soon, the next featuring your favorite breakfast and bakeries options. If you want your opinion voiced, check me out on Facebook and send me the best you think El Paso has to offer (or the worst!).

Until then, happy eating!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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June 6, 2013

Themed Care Packages: Father's Day

The Hubs and I don't have children of our own, so this is a care package I've never really thought about sending. Granted, we do have an excellent furbaby,and I've sent him items in the past from the dog.

Yeah, I know. Weird. But fun too, right? 

Anyway, for this post I was lucky enough to have a friend with some cool ideas for Father's Day. She wishes to remain anonymous, but from here on out I'm going to refer to her as the Drunken Cheesecake Chef (inside joke, peeps. Maybe I'll explain someday). She is one of my favorite spouse pals, and part of our weekly Ladies Night In. The ideas and photos here are hers, but most of the commentary is mine. If you love these ideas (and you will), please give her a shout out in the comments so I can convince her to post for us again, okay? And as always, share your ideas in the comments too.

Father's Day Care Package Ideas: 

1. Decorate Your Box / Send a Hug - If you've read my previous care package posts, you know I'm a huge fan of decorating the inside of the box. It's an excellent way to get your kids involved, plus your spouse will love the extra effort. Look for inexpensive supplies at your local dollar store. This idea from DCC (a.k.a. The Drunken Cheesecake Chef) is an excellent way to spruce up your decorating: 

To create your own: Buy two pieces of poster board and tape together. Have your child lie down on the  board with their arms outstretched (like a hug). Trace your child, then cut out the shape. Have your little one write a message to dad on the cut out. For example, "Hugs from (your location) to (deployed location). I love you Daddy. Happy Father's Day!" Then, include your date. Decorate if desired.

Once complete, use the "hug" to line the inside of your box. Pack everything else on top, then wrap the "arms" around the entire contents before sealing. This will give it a hug shape.

2. All About Daddy Survey - Also from DCC, this is such a sweet idea! There are lots of ways to personalize this and make it your own too. Let your kids write a questionnaire about dad ( or write one for them and help them fill answers). Don't give them the "correct" answers, let them answer with their hearts. Kids say the greatest things sometimes, and their perception is so wonderfully different.

Here are some survey questions that might be fun to include:
      a. My daddy's favorite food is___________________
      b. My dad's favorite game is___________________
      c. My dad's favorite movie is____________________
      d. My dad is ______ years old
      e. My favorite memory with dad is_______________________
      f. Things daddy does with me ______________________
      g. My daddy is ____________ feet tall
      h. My daddy is ____________ pounds
      i. My daddy has ________ hair and ________ eyes
      j. My daddy likes to wear _______________________
      k. My daddy's job is _____________________
      l. Daddy's feet are _______________________
     m. What I love best about my daddy: _________________________
     n. I love my daddy because ___________________________
     o. What I will do first when I see daddy again __________________________

Then include the child's age, etc. at the bottom.

Neat, right?

You can also do something like this (above). We all have a pair of extra boots or shoes around, even when the hubs is deployed. Trace dad's boot and cut out, then let child trace their own. Include child's name, age, shoe size and type. Then include the same info for dad.

The possibilities here are endless! Send us your ideas too, and I'll share them with everyone.

3. Photographs and Picture Mementos - This is a great time to have your picture taken and send dad some recent photos. Ask your photographer to include a deployment theme if you want. This picture, for example, is absolutely precious:

Found on Pinterest. Click here for link

If you search around the web, you'll find there are lots of great photo ideas, some you could even do yourself.

Besides photographs, you can create fun photo gifts like calenders, coffee mugs, even pillowcases! Look into websites such as Snapfish or Shutterfly and explore their products.

4. Favorite Things - Make this box all about dad! What are his favorite snacks and treats? Who is is favorite author? What is his favorite coffee? Send all these things, perhaps along with a list of your child's favorite things about dad.

5. Coupon Book -   Download one or create your own! Include coupons for his return, like a long afternoon nap, or his favorite meal. There are links for these all over the internet and Pinterest, but here's a free, printable one that I found: Disney Family Coupon Book

6. Everything Else! - Because the Hubs and I don't have kids, I've never made this type of care package. But here are a few links to some truly excellent ideas:

          Dad is my HERO box

          Flavors of our Super Dad

          Hero Printables

          Printable Dad Awards

And that concludes my Father's Day Care Package ideas. Please share any ideas you have as well, I love hearing from all of you. Until then, happy packing!

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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