Thursday, December 21, 2017

Shortest Day SALE - Living Legacy and last minute gifts

Happy Solstice!

If you are still not done Christmas shopping, or need a few quick cards that won't get delayed in the mail, we've got you covered.
(More below.)

If you have completed your seasonal obligations under budget and ahead of schedule, congratulations. 
Are you ready to think about giving something that means more than one person or one season?

When the 'givers' in our world stick together, we make things better for everyone.

Living Legacy Project

We get excited when we get an invitation from the Himalayan foothills, or refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, places where DIY heaters that are thrifty on wood could be life-saving and livelihood-saving.
However, as fellow 'highlanders' and economic refugees (we live in the back hills of the poorest county in our state), we can easily spend all of our time on these volunteer projects.  And we don't have the independent means to fly ourselves all over the world to give the best chance of success to these critical requests.

We do what we can through public forums, online consulting, and the occasional sponsored project.  But these skills are best learned in person; a single weekend workshop, or a 2-week series of projects, can save a new builder years of trial and error.
Wouldn't it be great if we had a not-for-profit support base, where we could tap donated funds for worthy causes, give scholarships to promising students, and invest in the research needed to find appropriate solutions at all levels?

Enter Seven Fires, an Oregon 501(c)3.

Their charter is "providing opportunities for children and elders, and preserving traditional cultures."  The director is a longtime friend, with ties to Cob Cottage Company, and a couple of rocket mass heaters in her guest rooms.

Seven Fires enthusiastically supports our work in education and traditional skills, whether that's building with earth, burning smokeless fires, or sharing with new generations the joys of traditional craftsmanship. 

That means you can donate to support our work, and get a tax write-off if you need it.  It also means we (and our colleagues and students) may be able to reduce the taxes we pay to Big Brother for the portion of our work that's really charitable in intent.  Here's the details.

Seven Fires:  (Tammy Van, 541-347-7801).

Please mark any donations "Living Legacy Project"
Seven Fires Foundation
89001 Highway 42 South
Bandon, OR 97411
501(c)3 Tax ID 16-161-7279
PayPal to:

If you'd like to be a little more specific/restrict your donation, you could say
- "Living Legacy Village Project" (to directly support hands-on skill building, educational and economic opportunities for people on the margins), or
- "Living Legacy Mainstreaming Project (for research and development aimed at proving sustainable projects meet the highest global standards, such as emissions testing and case studies).

You can also donate gently-used or new items.  What is not needed for children and elders served directly by Seven Fires will be re-sold for their general fund.

And here are the gifties and goodies for you last-minute holiday shoppers:

Printable cards or e-cards:

(click on the image to see it full-size, then "save image as" to your own device.)

If you email a link to your local printer for a photo-print or paper cards, here is a copyright release for them.  (Copyright release: The artist (Erica Wisner) hereby allows reproduction of these images for non-commercial purposes.
Images dated 2005-2014, release dated 12/21/2017, effective until further notice.)

The image above is a printable card. 
We also offer DIY craft patterns, classes, and custom decorative cutouts.

How much paper snow do you want?
Theme request (optional)

Available for Purchase:

Annex 6" Plans - Digital or Paper?

Bonny 8 RMH - digital or paper?

Cabin 8 RMH - digital or paper?

Ely 8 RMH Plans - digital or paper?

Art of Fire - Digital or Paper?

Thanks for taking the time to visit our blog during this busy season.  Warm wishes for holidays full of comfort and good company.

Ernie and Erica

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Winter fruit countdown - 5 days until Ernie's Birthday

 Most people pick their apples before the snow is ankle-deep, but these ones were plenty sweet for apple butter and pie.  "Water-core" apples may even have extra juicy flavor, they just don't keep as well.

While in Portland, we paid a visit to Uwajimaya, and among the Dungees and lobster was one king crab.  We did not buy it, but got some other frozen seafood to take home for Ernie's birthday.

It is not allowed to be Christmas around here until after Ernie's birthday (Dec. 10).  So I tend to use it as a deadline for business-related things, too.  Since afterward the holidays do tend to take over.

This year, I'd really love to have our online store back up and functioning.
Since our old, well-appointed digital delivery service closed down, we've been selling our digital goods on, but I keep thinking we should have our own online store set back up again, for folks who want an easy way to compare plans and books.

Or even to pick up something for the holidays ...

I've been experimenting with making PayPal buttons.  The buttons themselves seem to work OK (I've used one for someone to pay an invoice by credit card), but the process of handing inventory, and delivering digital goods automatically, is a bit more cumbersome.

See if this works for you:

The same button is displayed twice, once as a caption to this image:

How much paper snow do you want?
Theme request (optional)

And here's the button all by itself:

How much paper snow do you want?
Theme request (optional)

If $5 is feeling like Real Money this month, or you want to add a second item without paying much, we have this Helpful Test Button:

The Illusion of Choice

If you feel like spending a little money to support this experiment,
I would like to know if you can order multiple times (for example, a single snowflake with the theme "koalas" and a set of 5 with the theme "kangaroos", or one snowflake instructions and one Donate/Test), and see them correctly when you click "View Cart."

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Apple Canning Blitz

2017 Canning Notes
Coming home in late October, we found a bumper crop of apples, made juicier and sweeter by some light frost.  Then found local, organic cranberries for sale in town. I couldn’t resist taking a few “snow days” to turn this harvest into a year’s worth of family-style treats.

For those who only care about rocket mass heaters:  The only connection is that I did use the barrel top to simmer a few of the applesauce batches over our evening fire, before taking it to the kitchen for canning.  You are now free to leave this blog entry for something more interesting, like this:

For those who love cooking, canning, eating, homestead harvesting, and in particular if you're into doing these things with little or no added sugar, read on.

All Fruit: I don’t use sugar or honey, so these recipes are sweetened with fruit juices and juice concentrates.  For safe canning, I work from recipes in the Joy of Cooking or Fanny Farmer, using the natural substitutions they have tested (fruit juice in place of sugar syrups, lemon in place of citric or other canning acids), and their recommended batch times and head space.  

My tastes also run a bit to the tart side.  I enjoy eating sour fruit “relishes” with meat or cheese, as well as sweeter jams and spreads. 

If you like your treats sweeter, feel free to drizzle on some honey or maple syrup, sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon-sugar. Or adjust to taste when cooking these into your own desserts or barbecue sauces.

Here’s what I’ve made so far. 

Pink Applesauce:
Apples (mostly Gravenstein),
Apple juice (organic)
White grape juice (concentrate)
Lemon juice
lemon zest
May contain additional water*

Suggested uses:
Eat it – try with breakfast or dessert (cottage cheese, yogurt, pancakes, crepes),
Great with pork (chops, roast, sausage)
Bake with it (look for applesauce cakes, muffins, strudel)

Apple Slices with Cranberry
Apples, apple juice, cranberries

Suggested uses:
Eat it (as for applesauce)
Great with pork, turkey, or brie cheese

Quick Brie and Compote Snack-wiches:
On your favorite bread or crackers, (I like English muffins), spread a layer of apple slices with cranberry, top with about ¼ inch of Brie cheese. Toast lightly in a toaster-oven or under the broiler; enjoy warm.

The juice left in the jar is good to drink, or for fruit punch, or for sweetening up a vinaigrette for a fancy salad. (There are a lot of good salads with fruit, nut, and cheese over seasonal greens – like arugula, pear, bleu cheese, and pecans, or you can do something similar with apples, walnuts, and cheddar on a young mustard-greens blend. Or a regular chef salad with ham, egg, and bleu cheese over lettuce.)

This juice, or the Cran-Orange goo from the next one, might also be good in harvest-themed cocktails. Try as substitute for the simple syrup in a Whiskey Sour, Apple-Tini, or Old Fashioned.

I’ve been making cider-lemonade with the leftover apple or grape juice between batches. It’s not exactly lemonade, and not exactly cider, but it’s tasty.

Cranberry-Orange Relish / Sauce:
Cranberries (fresh and frozen, organic)
Orange juice concentrate (organic)
Zest of orange and/or lemon (organic)
May contain white grape juice concentrate

Suggested uses:
This is a very tart version of cranberry sauce. Add honey or other sweetener to taste.
Great with roasts or sandwiches (turkey, chicken, duck, Brie or cream cheese, or use it like marmalade)
Try it with plain yogurt or ricotta, or eat it with a spoon.

Blender Cran-Orange Julius:
¼ to ½ cup cranberry relish, 1 to 2 cups cream or milk, 1 banana, 1 tsp vanilla, ½ to 1 cup ice (shaved or small cubes). (Add 1 raw egg for the traditional version, optional cinnamon or nutmeg to taste). Blend until smooth and thick, enjoy immediately.
(Servings: 2 to 4 small cups. To share with more people, use the larger amounts, and add some orange juice concentrate and fresh berries.)

Apple Butter:
Apples, apple juice (organic)
lemon juice,
lemon zest,
may also contain grape juice concentrate, port or red wine, ginger, and/or additional water* (varies by batch)

Suggested Uses:
Eat it with a spoon, on toast, or with your favorite breakfast foods (see “applesauce”)
Use as base for sweet-and-savory sauces

Quick Apple-Butter Barbecue Sauce
Combine equal parts fruit-sweetened apple butter and Worcestershire sauce.
Season to taste (some cooks may wish to add a hotter pepper sauce, white vinegar, salt and pepper, anchovy paste, garlic or onion. If you have a favorite barbecue sauce recipe that starts with ketchup, try using the apple butter as a substitute, and work from there.)

Apple [Pie] Sauce:
Apples, apple juice, white grape juice concentrate, cinnamon, salt. May contain additional water*.

This is a cross between applesauce and apple-pie filling. It is a little on the tart side; depending on your family’s tastes, you might sweeten it up before serving, or offer a cinnamon-sugar shaker at table.

Suggested Uses:
Eat it with breakfast, with pork, or as a snack (see “applesauce” above).
Especially good with hot, buttery biscuits: like apple pie for breakfast, but less work.
Use as the filling for apple pie, cobbler, or crisp

Apple Pie:
1 quart (2 pint jars) Apple Pie Sauce.
For a “proper” pie filling, you need the thickeners we omitted for canning. You could mix them in before baking, or try this method – like making a ‘roux’ except quicker.
Melt in a large saucepan or skillet:
2 to 3 tablespoons butter
Stir in:
2 to 3 tablespoons flour (or starch such as corn, arrowroot, or tapioca),
(Up to ½ cup white or brown sugar if desired)
Stir in the Apple Pie Sauce, keep stirring over medium heat until just bubbling, then remove from heat and set aside. This is your Pie Filling.

Pie Crust: You can use a storebought crust, or your own recipe, or add cheddar cheese or butter and cinnamon sugar on top, if you like. This is the pie crust I usually make. It’s strong enough to serve as a ‘handle’ for cold pie for breakfast, but tender enough to please most eaters.

Flour Paste Pie Dough: (from Joy of Cooking, circa 1975)
Mix together in a largish bowl:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt

Remove 2/3 cup flour mixture into a second bowl (cereal bowl or 2-cup size).
Into this, mix about ½ cup water** to make a smooth paste.
(**In the humid Willamette Valley, Mom reduces the water to ¼ cup. In the semi-arid Okanogan Highlands, I often add ¾ to 1 cup of water, making the paste more of a soup to hydrate the whole batch of very dry flour.
This variability is probably why Joy of Cooking no longer includes this recipe. It takes a baker’s “feel” to get it right, and not everyone has time to practice and adjust a recipe anymore. If your dough is too dry to hold together at the end, you can fetch another ¼ cup of very cold water, and dribble in a little at a time until it comes together. Make a note of how much you use, in case you want to do this again sometime: it does come out better to include all the water in the paste stage.)

Now back to the larger bowl. Grate in using a cheese grater, tossing occasionally to integrate with the flour mixture:
2/3 cup chilled butter (1 and 1/3 sticks)
(Notes: Easiest to do with frozen butter.
Or use 1 stick butter + 2 to 3 tablespoons lard, for a lovely flaky crust.)
Mix the butter lightly into the flour, just enough to ensure there are no massive clumps. (The original recipe called for “grain the size of small peas,” and I could never bring myself to stop before it was cornmeal-grain sized. Little chunks of butter or lard will make it flakier, so don’t over-work it.)

Now make a well in your buttery flour bowl, and pour in the flour paste. Fold and mix it briefly, by hand or with a large spoon, just until it clumps together into a dough. Roll out on lightly floured cutting board. Makes 2 crusts: enough for 1 covered pie, or 2 open-faced pies.

Baking: since the filling is pre-cooked, pre-heat the oven to 350F, load the filling into the bottom crust, and cover with a pricked or lattice top crust. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the crust is well browned and the filling is bubbling.

Fanny Farmer’s Apple Crisp:
Mix with a fork (works best if you melt the butter):
¾ cup flour, or alternative
(Or: ¼ cup oats, ¼ cup powdered milk, and 6 tablespoons flour.
Or: 1 cup corn flakes, smashed. )
1 cup sugar (white or brown)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup butter
¼ teaspoon salt

Spread over the apple filling. Bake at 350°F until the crust is brown (up to 30 minutes).
Serve with cream, whipped cream, or ice cream.

Apple Grunt:
Spread the apple filling in a pan, top with your favorite biscuit recipe, such as:
Baking Powder Biscuits:
Sift together into a mixing bowl:
2 cups flour
[1 to ] 2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Work in with your fingers:
2 [to 4] tablespoons shortening (I use butter, and I like to freeze it and grate it in for easier mixing)
With a fork, quickly stir in:
2/3 [to 3/4] cup milk
Add more milk, little by little, until the dough is soft and light but not sticky.
(Because flours differ, exactly how much milk to add is your judgment call. Some recipes call for ¾ cup, some for 1 cup, others for the baker to adjust by feel. If you go too far and it gets sticky or soggy, you have ‘drop biscuits’ that can be spooned onto the apples instead of rolling them out, and they still bake up lovely.)

Turn out onto a floured board, pat down, knead a couple of times if needed. Roll lightly ¾ inch thick. Shape with a biscuit cutter (or upside-down cup), cut into diamonds, or use the whole sheet as topping for Apple Grunt.

Original baking method: put the apples and biscuit topping in a deep baking dish, and put this baking dish in a larger dish filled with boiling water. Bake hot enough to keep the water boiling, adding more from a hot kettle if needed to keep the water within 1 inch of the top of the dish.
Bake/boil for up to 1 hour, until the biscuit topping is golden brown and cooked through.
Serve with
heavy cream.

(Fanny neglects to specify an oven temperature; and you probably don’t need to bake this long with pre-cooked apple filling. I suppose you can watch to keep the water boiling, if you’re into “active oven management.” You might try between 350 and 450, and see what works. Based on similar recipes like apple cobbler, I’m going to try 425 for 30 minutes.

For a quicker result with less guesswork, bake the biscuits alone, at 450 for 10 to 15 minutes, and then split open and serve with hot apple filling and cream.
(Like a hot, apple version of strawberry shortcake.)

*What does this mean “may contain additional water”?
I really enjoyed the pink color and rich flavor from the peels and cores of this year’s apples. (The Gravensteins responded to our fall frosts by turning “winesappy” - they filled their cores and sometimes all the way to the skin with juice, to the point where they became translucent and intensely flavored – very similar to the extra-sweet and aromatic flavors you get in an “ice wine” made with super-cooled grapes.)

However, even though the cores and peels do have great flavor, I don’t love pushing soggy cores through a food mill after stewing (to remove the seeds, stems, and seed-guard-shell-thingies, and most of the stewed peel).

This year, I processed a lot of the apples using a peeler-corer, started the main batch of applesauce or apple butter with the clean white chunks. Then I stewed the peels and cores with water and a little lemon juice (for anti-browning), to extract some of their color and flavor. As both batches softened, I pressed out a pinkish “apple juice” and sometimes a pinkish pulp from the peels. This was delicious by itself, but usually I added it back into the main batch of apple butter or apple sauce to boost the flavor and color. I also ate a fair amount of the stewed apple peels as my late night snack after removing the last batch from the canner.

I am tempted to do “apple strings” in the dehydrator – coated with cinnamon, long spaghetti-like apple peelings might be a fun winter treat. Or a base for "instant apple fritters" (really just some nutritional justification and structure to hold a deep-fryer batter or donut dough).  
Or fun to turn into crafty things? 
Or just overkill?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Our rockety friends in a lovely video

Ernie and I laid low for this one, but you can see the heater we slept next to, and some of our goofball friends.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Well, that was an adventure ...

August 31, 2017: Call Bill Duguay of Methow River Wildfire, ask if he'd be interested in another crew member for the tail end of wild fire season.

September 4: Finish new hire paperwork for Methow River Wildfire

September 5: Dispatched with MRW engine 10 to Norse Peak Complex, Snoqualmie WA.  Serve 11 days under engine boss Clayton, mostly structure protection.  (Soundtrack: Reggae, hip-hop, and chainsaws...)
Clearing fuels back from structures
A charming bark-clad structure

Family cabin with Mom's garden and Swedish wood stack

Silver fox says, "This is poopy."
Morning briefing
Standing by for structure defence
Helicopters run water to steeper slope areas
Fire rolls down toward our previous location;
the structure-defence lines hold.

Sept. 18: Relief crew replaces us; caravan 6+ hours home to central WA.

Sept. 19: Sleep, wash socks, eat

Sept. 20: Dispatch calls regarding Umpqua North Complex, southern Oregon.  Proceed in the morning to Wenatchee, meet engine boss Judy and crewmate Damien.  Long, funny, 10-hour road trip down Route 97.  Last 4 miles to fire camp, we are passing by snow on the ground.  Boss suspects we may not work very long, if at all.  *My cell phone quits getting service for some reason.

Morning frost, flagged-off muddy road, and a chipper
Sept. 21: Staging/IA = wait out the rain, and sometimes snow, in a gravel lot near the temporary heli-spot.  On the third day, I become restless and collect some of the larger rocks into a stone chair. 
Crewmate Damien tries out the stone chair
Hiking into burn area
On the fourth day, they send us out to unwrap "cultural sites" and repair hand lines.  By day 6, we are working 8 to 12 hour days feeding wood chippers; along with another MRW engine and crew.  When most of the trails are repaired and the management team times out, they disband the camp and send us home.  Total of 10 days.
Needle fall covers charred ground

Masticator \ excavator
Nicknames earned:
"SuperNanny" (due to frequent provision of spare paper napkins, map/route details, snacks, and hot cocoa for mocha upgrades when the food tent ran out)...
"Stonewall" (from a charming equipment driver who enjoyed watching the armchair masonry).

Sept. 30: Another 10-hour road trip home: engine to Cashmere, convoy to Wenatchee, drive myself home from there.

Oct. 1: Sleep, wash socks, pack.

Shadow of deer in dust
Oct. 3: Load myself, Ernie, and Radar in the station wagon, head for Montana. *6:30 pm: stop in Colville to buy a pre-pay cell phone for travel safety.
8:05 pm: Large, white-tail buck emerges from the darkness - takes out 3 panels, driver side mirror, and windshield of station wagon. 
White tail hairs, dog leash

8:10 pm: Call insurance, lash rear door on with dog leash, limp back to Colville, find motel, call home.

Oct. 4: Phone calls, body shop, backtrack. 
Estimator warns it is likely totalled, describes the car as non-drivable despite apparently intact engine, wheels, and drive train.
Highlight: he explains to insurance claims agent,
"Technically, if zombies were coming and we had to get away, we could use her car ... but [describes damage] ... short of a zombie-level emergency, I would not recommend taking it on the road."

Load car contents into Ernie's dad's pickup, say goodbye at body shop. 
3 hour drive back home.

New car, as seen in daylight
Oct. 5: Phone calls, carry water, chop wood.   Discussion; Internet; more phone calls.  Get final numbers from insurance and bank, call dealer, pile back into pickup, drive 3 hours to Wenatchee.  Decide on a new car 5pm-6pm, load gear, paperwork.  Reserve hotel near Spokane, drive 3 hours, sleep.

Oct. 6: More paperwork until 1pm, finish drive to Montana.  Arrive 4:30 pm, prep, present our first session on schedule 6pm.  (Fire Science Theater).

Casserole-lid door:
thanks Uncle Mud!
Oct. 7-17: Rocket Mass Heater Innovators' Jamboree.  Enjoy watching Donkey and Uncle Mud get to know Paul & co.  Build unique slider door with extensive bubble-gum welding; help it be upstaged by a thrift-store casserole lid.

Paperwork continues (taxes, notaries, etc).

Oct. 19: Field trip to Missoula Fire Science Lab, take colleagues to airport, shop for hardware and fire gear. 

Fire service quilt

Fire behaviour test bed

'Recorder tree' marks historic wild fires

Oct. 20: Pack, clean up, Spokane VA, then home.
(6.5 hrs road time + 2 hrs medical/food stops).

Oct. 21: Sleep, wash up, eat, finish book. 
Fire chief calls with update, next tasks for fall.

Oct. 22: Work on commission from Spirit of Grace.  Trap 6+ mice.  Take Ernie's dad shopping in new car, obtain mouse-resistant storage containers and enzyme cleaner.

Oct. 23: Formally declare War on Mice, first battle: the bathroom.

Oct. 24-25: Back to work: office, wintering in/repairs, meals, dishes. 
Catch up with all you lovely folks.

What's next?
- Remodel experimental rocket stove in northern CA
- Set up Portland visits with family, friends, colleagues, clients
- Catch up on fire hall business
- Line out winter work.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Smoke, Fall, and Fire

Where is that smoke coming from?
View looking west from Mt. Hull, 2pm Friday
View to our west, about 6pm Friday
That particular smoke is coming from the Diamond Creek fire, over a few mountains from ours.  
To geek out on smoke patterns, I love this site:
Use the "earth" menu to see particulates, chemicals (CO shows wildfires very distinctly), hurricanes (wind speed/temperature), etc.
To get updates on specific fires, this is my go-to:

What's new with rocket mass heaters?
PermaEthos is starting to put out some videos, showing my wrap-up of our June Appropriate Tech course in Montana. 

Like batch boxes? You might enjoy this one. 
(It is an update on the first 8" batch box that Peter Van Den Berg ever built, the one that turned out to make less smoke emissions than a candle for most of its burn cycle.)

The Rocket Mass Heater innovators will be gathering in Montana again in early October, for what Paul Wheaton is calling the "Jamboree."  A lot of good folks are signed up already, but I believe there's still room if you want to come.

I am trying out my wildland fire fighter chops:

And with the rest of my crew, learning structure fire-fighting tactics:
If you want a Mt. Hull Fire T-shirt, we're letting our crew send extras to family and friends for a $15-20 donation.  Let me know.
Back of 2017 T-shirt

Part of wildland chops is, of course, filling the woodshed for winter.
I prefer to do it a year ahead, but in these extremely dry conditions, I'll take having it done before the fall rains start.