Riding the Rio Grande

Light winds, clear blue skies, a chance to do some birding and get some exercise on our bikes. That’s a winning combination in my book. We got an early start this morning and were on the bikes riding the paved multi use trails that follow the Rio Grande.

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The Rio Grande

 

Our first bird sighting was a Great Blue Heron. It seemed so out of place here in the high desert. This majestic bird wasn’t even on the water, we spotted it in the grassy area off the bank.

The multi use bike paths here in Las Cruces are a great away to not only see birds but to also see the more rural areas where the main crop we saw was pecans. I am fascinated by this farm crop and learned New Mexico is the second largest producer in the US. Of course, we had to buy some and got a big 15 lb bag when we were in Hatch the earlier this week.

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La Llorona Trail

These trees take a lot of water and the orchards are flooded every three weeks with up to four feet of water depending in the soil type. This flooding deeply waters the trees and is essentially the only way there trees can survive in the arid desert. It sure was an interesting sight the first time we saw a flooded orchard. Being from Oregon where the rain water is plentiful, we thought that the irrigation system had sprung a leak and this couldn’t be a good thing!

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Small pecan orchard being flooded

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Fully flooded pecan orchard

Back on the trail, we racked up an easy dozen bird species sightings and looped back to where we started. Our sightings included Great Blue Heron, Red Winged Blackbird, Great Tailed Grackel, Greater Roadrunner, Vermillion Flycatcher, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Gambel’s Quail, White-winged Dove, Rock Pidgeon, Common Raven, Killdeer, and possibility a Northern Harrier.

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Caught this Killdeer resting on the beach grooming itself in the sun

Unfortunately, I did not see any Burrowing Owls and suspect the time of day was wrong for them to be out.

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The ride was not complete without a stop at The Bean in Old Mesilla for some coffee and a peanut butter, black berry and raspberry croissant. Another great day so far in Las Cruces.

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Silver City…Eclectic, Funky and slightly Gritty.

It is the cusp of Spring here in Silver City NM, the trees are just starting to leaf out, the snow in the mountains is mostly gone, the weather is near perfect and the town has a quiet feel. Most shops are only open until 5:30, some restaurants are closed more than open and the University is on break. The historic downtown is colorful, quaint and fun to explore.

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We are staying at the Rose Valley RV Ranch which at one time was out of town but now sits at the edge of the urban sprawl off Hwy 180. Down the way is a Walmart and a Albertsons which are the biggest shopping options in town, there are no Starbucks and no big chain restaurants like Applebees or the Olive Garden.

IMG_1187The RV Ranch is just that, a sprawling piece of land, gravel roads with big spacious RV sites that each have a privacy corrals, evergreen juniper shrubs and trees. You enter through the gate with an old western arch.

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The property is complete with a old water tower, farm equipment and and a bath house which holds the laundry, book/internet room and four bathhouses. This is a great location in which to do day trips in the area, and is quiet and friendly.

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Despite its slightly gritty feel, Silver City has started to grow on me. People are friendly, laid back and really love living here. Diversity is valued here and the city is home to hundreds of artists, painters, potters, printmakers, weavers, glass blowers, jewelry makers and other artisans make their home here. Live music abounds here as well and we have heard some great music on our stay here.

There are some great restaurants, none overly expensive or fussy. 1Zero6 and Revel were are two favorites for dinner. Jake, the Chef at 1Zero6 opens the restaurant 3 nights a week and publishes the menu by email. Choose your entrée when reserving and know you will get a terrific meal made with fresh ingredients by a seemly perfectionist chef. I had the best seat in the house to watch the action in the kitchen.

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Looks are deceiving as Jake is not your typical chef in the white starched coat, nope he is rather casual in attire but that’s where it ends. Recently back from Oaxaca Mexico and inspired by the cuisine, he did not disappoint.

Tlayuda con Falda
Oaxacan tlayuda toasted and spread with spicy black bean cooked with avocado leaf and spices. Topped with roasted pork shoulder, fresh chorizo, queso fresco and fresh herbs, then folded and grilled.

Lasaña Oaxaqueño
Chicken braised, bones and all in spicy stock, de-boned and layered with fresh masa sheets, house mole, queso fresco and crema agria. Capped with queso and baked.
Served with a salad.

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On the more casual side, we had a great beer and green chile cheese fries at the the Little Toad Creek Brewery and for a bit of culinary diversity, we ate at Tapas Tree House which wowed us with the Vietnamese Crepe and Banh Mi. No shortage of good eats here in Silver City, just don’t expect any pretense!

There is a lot to do in the area, hiking, biking and scenic driving jaunts abound within a 120 mile radius of Silver City. Fort Bayard National Historic Landmark, Pinos Altos or City of Rocks State Park are all fun places to explore. The Gila National Forest area with 3.3 million acres is spectacular and two great day trips with in the vast area will take you to the Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument or the Catwalks Recreational area.

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So, why the description – gritty? Well, this was an old west mining town and now a small university town so the definition of gritty from the urban dictionary fits it well past and present…
“Gritty”
harsh, coarse, rough and unrefined, as in film depictions that portray life as it truly is, without false distortions, stylizations, or idealizations”.
Upon arrival, I may have leaned towards first part of the definition but after a week in Silver City, the later part is what strikes me as the correct definition. There is no pretense here and ones affluence is not easily defined nor really a subject of much interest by anyone. Actually, quite refreshing!

Chaos at the Catwalks

Floods, fires and washed out roads are all possibilities in the Catwalk Recreational Area. This area has quite a history of natural disasters yet the state continues to rebuild this remote area in the Gila National Wilderness for us all to enjoy. The scenic 66 mile drive from Silver City took us through beautiful, sprawling ranch land with spectacular formations and mountains in the background. Little did we know, that we would be thwarted from our adventure just 3 miles from the Catwalks Trailhead.
I was really looking forward to this adventure and really wasn’t paying much attention to these signs along Hwy 159 which takes you the final 5 miles to the Catwalks. Yes, there is still a bit of snow on those mountains that I saw on the drive up but there hasn’t been any rain up here since we arrived.

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As we came over a rise on Hwy 159 I was really surprised to see this torrent of water rushing over the road into a small water fall. Well, that and the cars stopped at the edge of the water gave us some pause for concern. No one seemed to be crossing and we sure did not want to be “those people” you see on the evening news who’s car get swept away by a fast, raging river.

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After some discussion, we turned Ernie around and headed up towards Mogollon where I read there was a ghost town. Well, that road was closed up about 12 miles but we found a possible trail down to the catwalk which we could see after bush whacking our way to the canyon edge. We could literally see the Catwalk parking area below as well as another area of flooded road right before the parking lot. Double Damn!!

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Again, after some discussion we decided we weren’t prepared for the rustic trail with at least a thousand feet of elevation gain and possibility of rattlesnake as companions. Entries in the trail log book weren’t encouraging either, so turn around again we did.

Hungry and ready for lunch, we decided to take our picnic back to the area where the road was underwater. Wally’s theory was that it might have lessened. I liked his optimism and upon arrival at the area it did indeed look more passable. Still undecided, a SUV came through with no problems and after a quick chat with the driver, we learned that we would not have to cross the second flooded area as a trail on the other side would take us to the Catwalks trail. Double yippee skippee!

Feeling confident, we forded the stream and whooped in delight after we made it through with no drama and no chance of being on the evening news.

We have been to a lot of National Parks and Monuments, but the Catwalk National Recreation Trail at Whitewater Picnic Area is something special. The trail follows Whitewater Creek into a narrow, scenic canyon and then traverses a metal grid walkway right above the creek. The infrastructure for the trail was originally built to support a pipeline that carried water to a mill that crushed ore for gold and silver mines in the area. After the mill closed, the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) rebuilt the structure into a trail as a recreation attraction for the Gila National Forest. Floods have damaged the Catwalk many times over the years, requiring repairs. The most-recent repairs were completed in 2016, but the trail was currently only open for 1/2 mile into the canyon as huge boulders have fallen into the creek bed. It was a nice, easy 1 mile loop with a footbridge to get us back across the water that gushed out of the narrow canyon.

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Bonus points for the Javelina spotting – sorry no pictures as they are fast on their feet. I was happy to see 4 large adults heading across a small side road and not darting out in front of us. So worth the drive and so glad we didn’t give up. Just another day for the recently retired adventurers!

 

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Magical Kartchner Caverns

Imagine stumbling onto a site so incredible, so beautiful, so old, yet so alive that you are torn whether to keep this place secret to protect it or to reveal it to the world so that the beauty and scientific wonder of it can be enjoyed by generations to come.

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This is the secret that cavers Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts discovered in 1974 and held secret for 14 years. After their amazing discovery, they knew this was a place like no other and knew it was a place that needed to be preserved. The two men had just discovered a cave on par with the finest caves in the world. And unlike some other popular caves, this one was still alive. By comparison, the world-famous Carlsbad Caverns is mostly dry. Another famous cave, Colossal Cave, is dry and dusty. But the wet, dripping quality of this newly discovered cave meant that the 40,000 – to nearly 200,000-year-old flowstone, stalactites, and stalagmites were still growing. After gaining the cooperation of the Kartchner family and working with them for ten years, together they decided that the best way to achieve the goal of protection through development as a tour cave was to approach Arizona State Parks.

More on the discovery of the caverns

The discovery of the cave was finally made public in 1988 when the landowners sold the area to the state for development as a park to showcase the caverns. Prior to its grand opening in 1999, yes, over 10 year later, the state spent $28 million on a high-tech system of air-lock doors, misting machines and other equipment designed to preserve the cave.

I can’t even begin to describe the beauty that these underground caverns hold. Pulling into Kartchner Caverns State Park you have no idea what is in store for you. The vast, high desert terrain is holding its secrets close and only thanks to those two crazy cavers will those secrets be revealed to you.

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Our tour of the Rotunda/Throne Rooms was led by a knowledge and amusing young park guide, Suzanne. She used humor to help our small group of 20 people understand why we could not touch anything as we could effect this living cave and damage it irrevocably. And trust, me you wanted to touch it.

The tour was a half of a mile in length and took approximately an hour and a half to complete, 50 minutes of which is underground. The moist, damp humidity inside the caverns was a welcome change form the dry desert. We learned the role that water plays in creating the caverns, saw the discoverers’ original trail, delicate formations and “Kubla Khan,” the largest column formation in Arizona, over five stories tall.

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The caverns have stringent technical controls: heavy steel doors keep out hot desert air, a misting system maintains a relative humidity of at least 97.5 percent and low-intensity lights inhibit algae growth. Once inside, the two main galleries are a kaleidoscope of color with 100-foot high ceilings dripping with multihued stalactites and floors jutting up with matching stalagmites. Giant white columns form where the two meet. Dainty white helictites, translucent orange bacon, and shields of white calcite adorn this natural wonder. An extraordinarily thin stalactite, called a soda straw, hangs tenuously 21 feet 2 inches down from the cave’s ceiling. Rare quartz needles form “birds nests” and nitrocalcite “cotton,” and an extensive array of microscopic brushite moonmilk are found here and in only a few other caves in the world.

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Years of research and plain hard manual labor made these Caverns accessible to the public. I will admit to be completely blown away, mesmerized and left in awe of what I saw on our short time underground. I could have stayed there all day and left wishing I had had a chance to meet Gary and Randy. So many questions were racing through my mind.

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No cameras are allowed inside the caverns, so I can’t take any credit for the photographs in this blog post. Thanks to the internet, I found some images that would perhaps convey a small fragment of what we saw in our short time underground. Pictures can not do this underground wonder justice, they can’t convery the beauty nor the depth and size of the formations. All I can say is that you really must put Kartchner Caverns on your bucket list.

Thank You Boyce Thompson

We got up early to beat the heat – expected high of 87 degrees – and took a leisurely hike through the Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park which is located in beautiful Queen Creek Canyon, three miles west of Superior AZ. For nature lovers this is a must see and a easy day trip from the Phoenix metro area. Over 2600 species of arid land plants from around the world grow at the Arboretum. Agaves, aloes, boojum trees, cork oaks, jujube trees, legume trees, and, in the Eucalyptus grove, one of the largest red gum Eucalyptus trees (“Mr. Big”) in the United States. Cacti and succulents grow extensively throughout the Arboretum.

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Natural resource developer and philanthropist William Boyce Thompson established the Southwestern Arboretum in the mid-1920’s. The inspiration to create an arid-region arboretum sprang from a lifetime of interest in all things botanical, horticultural, and natural. It was specifically inspired by Thompson’s visit to Russia during the terrible famine years just after the First World War. Thompson, who was a Colonel in the Red Cross, came to realize how profoundly dependent human beings are on plants. It was Thompson’s fervent desire to do something to enhance man’s symbiotic relationship with members of the plant kingdom. A man of broad vision typical of the expansive “can-do” times, Thompson along with the Arboretum’s first Director, Franklin Crider, fashioned a mission for the Arboretum that was vast and global in scope with economic utility and aesthetic appeal being of primary importance in aquiring material for the collection.

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Having spent the last 10 years of my working career at a non-profit organization which thrived thanks to the help of volunteers, I really appreciated seeing the arboretum bustling with happy volunteers preparing for the annual plant sale. It was hard not to buy anything and my love of gardening felt squelched but there isn’t much opportunity on the coach for plants. I do have a small container of herbs and one orchid on aboard so I am not completely deprived.

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The Arboretum was the first purely botanical institution in this desert State and was founded to promote understanding, through scientific research and public education, for plant-people relationships in the arid and semi-arid parts of the American Southwest and the world. To further goals held in common, Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum entered into a bilateral management agreement with the University of Arizona in the mid-1960’s. This agreement was expanded to include Arizona State Parks in 1976, in recognition of the great recreational, educational, and historical significance of the Arboretum to the people of Arizona.

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The Arboretum’s irrigated gardens and protected grounds are a magnet for birds and animals. Over 300 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians call the Arboretum home. While often unseen, Mule Deer, Javalina, Fox, Raccoon, Skunk, Squirrel and Rabbits (just to name a few) call the Arboretum home.

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The Arboretum is also designated as an important bird area and next year when we are back in this area, I am planning to become a member and a volunteer. It will be a fun way to get my gardening fix and to learn more about birds. More than 250 species have been recorded in the “birds of the Arboretum checklist” so that should keep me out of trouble – right! Gambel’s Quail, Canyon Wren, Curved-Billed Thrashers, and Black Throated Sparrows are among the most abundant species but we were lucky to also see a Broad Billed Hummingbird and a beautiful bright red Cardinal.

In the early 1970’s, State Parks was looking for opportunities to expand its system, and the Arboretum had been identified as a potential addition. At this same time, the Arboretum was facing financial difficulties. In 1972, Dr. Kassander and Dr. Younggren of the University of Arizona approached the Parks Board to see if there was enough interest to pursue a partnership for the operation and management of the Arboretum. The Parks Board was interested and instructed its staff to begin meeting with the Arboretum staff to determine what the Board’s involvement might be. Following lengthy negotiations to develop an acceptable management agreement with the University of Arizona and the Boyce Thompson Southwestern Arboretum Board, the Parks Board signed a tripartite agreement on March 30, 1976.

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In the years since its creation, the tripartite agreement proved to be a very effective way to support and manage this valuable and complex resource. The result is a uniquely beautiful and useful desert garden for the education and enjoyment for not only the people of Arizona but for people for all across the world.

We really enjoyed the 2.5 miles of trails through the arboretum and will be back when we are in the area again next winter. Bryce Thompson certainly had vision and was instrumental in creating this amazing arboretum. Hats off to the State of Arizona for how it manages and preserves its natural resources and for keeping Bryce Thompson’s vision alive. The last stop on our 10 week exploration of Arizona will be the Kartchner Caverns State Park, so stay tuned as this is a cavern like no other.

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Lunch with a view

The choices for hiking in Arizona are abundant. We have the Tonto National Forest and Superstition Wilderness literally at our backdoor. The Tonto National Forest embraces almost 3 million acres of rugged and spectacularly beautiful country, ranging from Saguaro cactus-studded desert to pine-forested mountains beneath the Mogollon Rim. This variety in vegetation and range in altitude (from 1,300 to 7,900 feet) offers outstanding recreational opportunities throughout the year, whether it’s lake beaches or a cool pine forest.

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The unusual amount of rainfall this year in Arizona has provided a stunning backdrop for hiking with lush green hills and wildflowers just starting to bloom. Our hike yesterday up into Boulder Canyon had the added bonus of lake and stream views. The Boulder Canyon Trail climbs steeply to the wilderness boundary with expansive views over Canyon Lake. My activity app reported 68 floor, 15,318 steps and 6.4 miles at the end of the day – a well deserved Corona with a lime was earned!

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I love this hike for its rugged beauty. Bonus points for the reward of lunch with a view overlooking La Barge Creek with Weavers Needle and Ship Rock looming majestically in the distance. What a great place to sit quietly soaking in the beauty of nature and watch hawks floating gracefully through the canyon.

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Cooking in a tiny kitchen

Having gone from cooking in a home with copious amounts of counter space to an RV with a tiny kitchen hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for cooking. I have learned a few tricks along the way from cooking in our small boat galley which have helped me make the transition to life on the Road House.

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I really did have to pare down the gadgets, dishes and cookware when we moved onto the Road House but so far I don’t feel like I am really missing anything. I keep my essentials in the precious storage space in the kitchen. To get this anointed space, they must be things I use daily or at least often. It is still a challenge in that when I want one thing, it seems I have to move six things to get it but c’est la vie…I have time right??? The one thing I did shed was my crockpot but to be fair it was replaced with an Instant Pot…which I LOVE and use often. The non-essentials like my paella pan, fondue pot, etc are in a plastic crate in the basement storage compartment in the RV, along with a few things we should have never brought along (that’s another story), Wally’s tools, extra dog food, cases of wine, etc.

From a quick cleanup idea to how to get more temporary prep space, here are my top 10 tricks to stay sane in my tiny kitchen.

1. Clean as you go:
When you cook in a tiny kitchen, it doesn’t take much for it to become really messy, really fast. Cleaning as you go is crucial, The last thing I want to see is a big ole mess when I am done eating my fabulous meal and enjoying a great glass of wine.

2. Built-in oven/stove/sink covers that double the counter space:
I get more prep space with the stove and sink covers. The sinks have covers so I really utilize that space when I am doing my magic in the kitchen. The stove/oven also has a folding cover which really extends the counter space.

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3. Peel vegetables over a paper towel for quick cleanup:
When you only have a small bit of space to do all your prep work, it’s helpful if, when you finish one task, you can clear it off quickly for the next. One way to do that is to peel vegetables over a paper towel or mat. When you’re finished, just scoop up the towel (and peels) and throw it in the trash. Instantly clean counter!

4. Use a multi-tier fruit basket:
If I am going to give up precious counter space it is for something that I use often so its great when it actually provide more space. I needed a fruit basket and the Mikasa Spindle 2-Tier Adjustable Basket was just the ticket. It fits perfectly in a hard to utilize space behind my angled sink. By going vertical, I expanded my space, the baskets can be used separately and it stows easily when we are underway as it is three separate pieces.

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5. Rinse and reuse tools and utensils instead of grabbing new ones:
I have reduced the number of measuring cups, cutting boards and cooking utensils I have onboard teh Road hosue. While it may be helpful to have options while you cook, it only makes cleaning up that much harder! Try this instead: Use the same tools throughout the whole cooking session. When it comes to your mixing bowls, tools, and utensils, rinse and reuse what you’ve already got out instead of grabbing for a new clean one (and multiplying your mess).

6. Harness the power of the multi-tasking gadget:
If there’s one thing every small kitchen needs, it’s an immersion blender. This amazing multi-tasking tool can often replace a number of larger, clunkier appliances, and because it’s so easy to clean and reuse, it’s an amazing thing to have around when you’re cooking in a tiny space. My beloved Instant Pot is another multi-use gadget, pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, sauté pan…the list goes on!

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7. Use every available space:
The Road House is definitely lacking in pantry space so my microwave and oven double as storage. Not always convenient when you want to use them but where else would I store the baking pans, placemats and all my cutting boards? Funny, but I use all those things more than I use the oven. Same goes for the microwave oven – it is the perfect place to store open bags of cracker, chips or a loaf of bread. We have a Traeger which we use almost every night – it even makes a great pizza oven.

8. Use a magnetic knife strip:
I love a good, sharp knife and 11 of them made the cut (ha-ha) and are on the RV. The magnetic knife strip freed up so much precious drawer space. I admit I was a bit nervous about how well the knifes would ride while we are underway but so far so good. No one has been attached by a rogue knife…yet!

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9. Nesting and stacking is essential:
It’s super frustrating when you’re cooking in a small kitchen to feel like you’re always dealing with cramped cabinets, and annoying to have to rummage for a pan at the last minute. Well, that’s life on an RV or a Boat but I do reduce my frustration by nesting and stacking. Often used items get front row space, while the other essential but less used items as in the back of the cupboards. The drawers in the Roadhouse kitchen are really deep, so I utilize stackable drawer organizers which allows me to have all my favorite gadgets. Again, essentials get top drawer space. The I can’t live without you,  but don’t use you very often gadgets are in the bottom trays. It is fun to rediscover a favorite gizmo occasionally!

10. Make a shopping list/meal plan:
I know that seems basic but with my limited space, I have to minimize impulse purchases because there is simply no unused space in the interior cabinets. I don’t keep quite as extensive a pantry as I did in the house. I have all the essentials but try to use dry goods like rice, dry beans or grains quicker. For example, instead of buying canned black beans, I whip up a batch in the Instant Pot and freeze the amount I don’t need at the time. Spices, well that’s another story…hasn’t been much cutting back or consolidating there. I love Penzy’s spices and this gal can always cram another variety in the cupboard.

I am sure I will learn some more tricks along the way and find some new recipies I can’t wait to try. Last nights dinner was a tried and true, Orecchiette pasta with Caramelized Garlic, Sausage and Broccoli.

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So delicious and I didn’t even total the tiny kitchen too bad!!!

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