Monday, June 25, 2018

Rocket Ovens - and Sugarless Strawberry Shortcake recipe

We just got back from Montana - me for 6 weeks, Ernie bookending our course with a week-plus on each end.

We had some utterly delicious adventures.

Our friend Paul was eager to launch his Rocket Ovens kickstarter (now live!), which was a great excuse to bake some delicious treats for our Off Grid Kitchen team, the Peasant PDC, and anyone who happened to stop by.

Strawberry Shortcake: 
I still use my mom's 8th grade Home Ec biscuit recipe, sugar optional. 
This recipe is designed for single-serve or a couple. 
We multiply by 4 for a family with 4 kids, or for most get-togethers.

Preheat oven to 450.
Sift or whisk to combine dry ingredients:
1 c flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking powder.
Cut in shortening: 2 tbls butter, margarine, lard, or coconut oil. 
I like to use frozen shortening and a cheese grater for larger batches; speeds up the process of cutting in.

Double check all dry ingredients are in, before adding liquid.
(Handle the flour as little as possible once liquid is present;
that's the main secret to fluffy biscuits.)

Liquid: 3/8 cup milk
Mix briefly to form a loose dough ball - add more milk if needed.
Roll on floured board, or drop wetter biscuits by spoonfuls
directly on baking sheet, 1/2 inch apart. 

Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

For a larger batch: 4 c flour, 1.5 to 2 tsp salt, 2 tsp baking powder,
8 tbls (1/2 cup) shortening, 1 1/2 cups milk.

For a pretty, scone-like shortcake:
Add 1 tsp to 1 tbsp fine sugar to the dry ingredients, prepare as directed. 
Before baking, coat the top with milk or egg, sprinkle with 1 tbsp coarse sugar
(or nutmeg/lemon zest).

For no-sugar shortcake: Use original biscuits, or add a touch of lemon zest and vanilla. 
I don't use sweeteners much anymore, but some folks might enjoy a 1/4 tsp of stevia, or substituting a fruit juice concentrate (like apple or white grape) for part of the milk.

Whipped cream: Good enough by itself in my book, but if you must:
For 1 cup whipped or double cream, try
1 tbsp honey,
OR 2 tsp real maple syrup,
OR a vanilla no-sugar sweetener (like stevia drops) in discreet amounts.
You can always add more to taste, or drizzle honey/syrup over individual portions, if needed.

Wash, then pit/chop/slice the fresh fruit as needed. 
Some people like to sprinkle sugar in with berries,  and soak them together, to extract the juice and make a sweet goo. 
I usually just get very ripe fruit and eat it fresh. 
If I'm feeling decadent, I might drizzle or braise the fruit with a sweet-ish liqueur like rum, amaretto, or Cointreau. Or I might mix with an all-fruit jam for a sweet goo effect.
Each fruit has its own favorite spice partners.
Ripe strawberries or peaches are great with vanilla, a hint of nutmeg, honeyed cream.
Other berries - blueberries, raspberries: try 1/4 tsp of real Ceylon or Vietnamese cinnamon, a grain of nutmeg (size of a rice grain), a whisper of coriander or lemon zest. 
Cherry shortcake - try hitting the whipped cream with 1 tbsp amaretto, or 1/4 tsp almond extract, or pre-soaking the cherries in rum or amaretto + lemon zest.

If you, too, want an off-grid rocket bake oven, please check out this Kickstarter, which will not only provide you with delicious details on the whole process (from building the oven to baking the goodies), but will also support our ongoing work.

Affiliate link*:

(*Full disclosure: "Affiliate" means your patronage directly supports us here at Ernie and Erica with a modest kickback, as well as supporting our creative collaborators who designed, built, and filmed the whole thing.  A lot of the up-front work on these prototyping projects is volunteer, so we are heartily in favor of folks making money off the best success examples.)

In other tasty news:

Montana experienced some major wildfires last summer, and this spring's intermittent rain brought on flush after flush of delicious morel mushrooms.

Teaching my first Permaculture Design Course was a tall order.  Permaculture is a whole connected system of nature-based design, building regenerative systems that feed each other, provide sustainable food and livelihood for people, while supporting a resilient future for life on Earth.
Turns out, the details of how, why, and what are a lot to cover in a 70-hour classroom course.
Nothing that left me sleepless, but definitely some late nights and some first-time teacher flops along the way to a modest success.  (Teaching nature-based design is much better done outdoors than in a classroom, especially an after-lunch classroom with limited AV and a bunch of tired campers!)

I have to say, I find it a lot easier to recommend an oven design that bakes a good pizza, than to troubleshoot a hypothetical self-sustaining food forest for a Zone 4, semi-arid climate!
At least my home garden is looking lush after a 6-week absence.  So I must be doing something right.  Time to plant some sprouted potatoes, wash and pack my laundry, and get ready for fire season.

With summer finally here, we're getting into moderate fire dangers.  Burn bans are going into force across the western USA.  Please be careful with your wood-fired projects.
Although indoor, properly vented and screened cookstoves are often exempt from burn bans, please pay careful attention to proper screening.  Recommended for spark arrestor is 1/8" mesh or finer.  Due to the possible clogging effect of screen, allow 3x the chimney CSA flow area for screen surface area, to avoid choking the usual draft for most stoves.  This can be as simple as a tube of screen about 1 foot long, extending from the stovepipe to the rain cap.

Thanks for reading!

If I'm off on a fire before this gets updated again, wish me well, and stay safe this summer yourselves!

and Ernie

p.s. That Kickstarter link is: If you love this sort of thing and want your own link, please let me know.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Rockt Off-Grid Kitchen Workshop (free!) May 17-19

Paul made this lovely image set to show the cool off-grid kitchen tools and prototypes we've been playing with in Montana.

We'll be warming up these kitchen devices ahead of the Peasant PDC, and combining the best ones into a couple of off-grid kitchen facilities.  And visiting some of Missoula's great resources for prototyping some more off-grid tech.

You're invited to join us:

- The Off-Grid Rocket Kitchen Workshop: Free, limited to 6 people.

- The Schmoozaroo: No charge for returning guests of Wheaton Labs, small fee for first-time visitors.

- The Peasant PDC, May 21-June 22: Affordable, project-based PDC for participants willing to bring their own food and work-clothes.

Erica and Ernie

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Connecting the Gears

Image from, Missoula MT
I have a fire under me again.

Our recent Oregon visit introduced me to some living legends from Ernie's family lore.

Our mutual friends at Seven Fires are still cooking up powerful community collaborations around natural building and sustainable skills. I'm excited to work more closely with them come fall.

On my side, we had a great conversation about sustainable business life lessons, and making a living doing what you love, with the remarkable Bill Campbell of Equilibrium LLC

It all ties back to our personal and big-picture goals: resilient communities, adaptive problem-solving, giving ourselves permission to thrive by supporting a thriving future for life on Earth.

So what's on our plate today, to do all that? 
Image from, near Missoula MT

Peasant Permaculture Design Course, May 22-June 21, near Missoula MT:

Design principles and on-the-ground realities of what it takes to create a resilient, Earth-friendly lifestyle.
Image from

We have lined up some wonderful field trip hosts and guest speakers, and I'm still pulling more strings to bring back some of our favorite past students and collaborators to join us for this course.  Plus, the marvelous Boots program manager will be co-hosting the projects for this course, for a lot more hands-on practical experience than most PDCs have time to offer.

This permaculture adventure is going to be amazing. And it's surprisingly affordable - so if your friends are balking at the usual PDC price tag, point them our way.
Read more, or sign up here:

Our host Paul has also invited returning guests, former students, and collaborators to drop in while we're in the area for what he's calling the "Schmoozaroo."  Basically, if you've ever been part of our collaborations at Wheaton Labs, you are welcome to drop by for free, camp or join in some of the land projects or just stargaze, and be part of the vibe. 

And as a special component of that, we are discussing a FREE 3-day workshop, Rocket Off-Grid Kitchens, May 17-19.  (That's Thursday through Saturday, with the option to continue playing with the kitchen we've assembled on Sunday 5/20 if your time allows.) 

This workshop will be no charge, but limited to 6 participants, hand-picked for their skills and past contributions to our work. Please get in touch ASAP if you're interested in applying for a spot. Rocket Off-Grid Kitchens, May 17-19

We're excited to spend time with our friends and collaborators.   And to take at least one trip over to Free Cycles  in Missoula, for some creative bike-recycling to prototype Ernie's latest appropriate tech inspirations.

(No, it's not a giant bicycle-wheel dome.  Guess what he's going to make?)

Erica and Ernie