Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Barn Beam Mantle

When we moved into our shop, we moved into an empty box.  Sir Knight and my dad built a loft and stairs and we used furniture groupings to delineate rooms.  Over the years the "shouse" has become more and more homey but, of course, still lacks any kind of architectural detail.  Every ounce of "character" has had to come from us, not the shop.

Ever since Sir Knight, the children and I salvaged beams from a pioneer era milking barn, I have been wanting to use one of the beams as a mantle over our Procom gas stove.  This past weekend, Sir Knight and Master Calvin got out their saws and drills and brought my anticipated barn beam mantle to life! 

The first thing they did was measure the stove and determine how tall the mantle needed to be.  After measuring the barn beam, we determined how far apart the supports needed to be and cut those out of old oak packing crate beams.    Once the cuts had been made Sir Knight drilled through the uprights into the beam and then secured them with extra large screws, which he countersunk, so they wouldn't be evident from the face of the mantle.

The mantle balancing on the uprights

Putting in the screws

Help from Master Calvin
Although the mantle was fairly stable, Sir Knight wanted to bolt it to the wall so that it wouldn't accidentally fall on someone. He built a bracket out of an old piece of racking and screwed it to the underside of the mantle and then attached it to the wall, permanently securing the mantle and instantly adding "architectural character" to Little Shouse on the Prairie.

The new mantle - front and center!

The mantle was such a small thing, but it has delighted me immensely!  I know that many a blustery winter evening will be spent gathered around the hearth, enjoying the beauty that Sir Knight and young Master Calvin wrought with their work-worn hands.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Pressing the Harvest

The crisp falls days have brought with them the sweetly pungent smell of ripening apples.  Maid Elizabeth has an old-fashioned apple tree in her front yard that yields bountiful golden red apples with a flavor reminiscent of a Granny Smith with a sweet aftertaste.  They are crisp, making them perfect for pies, cakes, cookies and canning and they lend themselves especially well to one of our favorite fall treats - apple cider! 

Saturday, Maid Elizabeth and I spent the afternoon peeling and slicing apples (with help from Sir Knight) and rolling dough for our favorite fried apple pies.  We have been making these pies for years, after stumbling across the PERFECT fried apple pie dough recipe, and they seemed like the perfect treat to accompany our cider pressing adventure the following afternoon.  Because we used fresh apples (often, we'll use apples I've canned), the pies stayed crisp and perfect overnight, and even into the next day.

Sir Knight peeling apples

Apples mixed with sugar, flour and cinnamon

Butter melting in boiling water

The dough coming together

Maid Elizabeth rolling out circles of dough


And crimping

Frying pies - 6 at a time

Glazed and waiting to be devoured!
After church on Sunday, the family gathered at Maid Elizabeth's, cider press in tow, to begin pressing the fall harvest.  Miss Serenity picked through apples, discarding the damaged ones, while the children picked apples.  Maid Elizabeth washed jugs and Master Hand Grenade and Sir Knight ran the cider press.  We spent most of the afternoon pressing and finished up with roughly 25 gallons of fresh cider.  When we were done it didn't look like we had touched the apples in Maid Elizabeth's yard.  The rest of the good apples we will gather for canning while the damaged apples will go on the bear bait.  Nothing goes to waste!

Apples for the taking

Miss Serenity and Master Calvin, with the neighbor children picking apples on their side of the fence.

Into the apple eater

The cider press in full production!

Filled with crushed apples


And the cider flows!

Catching the last few drops

Pouring the cider through cheesecloth

Individual bottles

Gallons (with room left for expansion during freezing)

25+ gallons!
If you have a notion to make fried apple pies, here is our recipe:

Fried Apple Pies

For the dough:
1 C butter (cut into pieces)
1 1/4 C boiling water
1 tsp. salt
3 T sugar
4 1/2 to 5 C flour

Cut up the butter and put it into a medium bowl.  Stir in boiling water and stir until the butter has melted.  Add the salt, sugar and flour.  Stir until the dough forms a soft ball.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate while making your filling.

Cut into 16 equal pieces and roll out on a floured board.

For the filling:
3 C fruit, chopped (I used fresh apples)
1/4 C sugar, to taste
1/4 C flour
2 tsp. cinnamon (optional)

Mix thoroughly.  Put  1/4 C of filling into each dough round (or more, for a fuller pie).  Fold the dough over the top of the filling and crimp the edges with a fork.  Fry in hot oil (not so hot that it smokes) until golden brown.  Cool on rack.  When cool drizzle with a vanilla glaze.

Vanilla Glaze
1 1/2 C confectioners sugar
1 T butter, melted
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 T milk

Mix all ingredients.  Add more milk, if needed, to achieve the desired consistency.  Drizzle over cooled pies.


What a beautiful day of pressing apple cider and giving praise to the Lord of the Harvest!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Off-Grid Chronicles

On September 16th, Sir Knight and I marked our 16th year of living in Little Shouse on the Prairie.   What we had intended to be a one year adventure living in a shop has become a sixteen year undertaking in off-grid ingenuity.  It has shaped our family and pushed us to our limits.  We have learned how to overcome and how to be content.  We have learned that "self-reliance" doesn't exist, only heightened dependence on one another versus dependence on the established infrastructure.  We have grown stronger and closer and more capable.  We have experienced life as few people in our generation have had the opportunity to experience.  And yet our daily life is still a challenge, replete with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.

Our most recent off-grid hiccup has been generators (again).  Generators, along with our solar array are the foundation of our power supply.  We always keep two generators in our shed - one main generator and one back-up generator.  Both of our current gensets are older Onan generators, which have become our generators of choice.  Our main generator is a 6.5 KW and the back-up a 5 KW.  We have been relying solely on our main generator for the last year because our back-up generator had carburetor issues, along with a few other problems.  About two months ago we sent our back-up generator to my Dad's small engine mechanic so that we could have both generators up and running before winter.  After our back-up generator had been in the shop about two weeks, our main generator up and died.  What timing!  We limped along, relying on solar energy alone, while waiting for our back-up to be repaired.  In the meantime, we hauled our main generator in to Dad's small engine mechanic to add to his repair list, and waited, hopefully, for our back-up generator to be brought back to life.

Onan 5 KW (Needs a good scrubbing, doesn't it?!)
Yesterday my parents brought us a wonderful gift - our back-up generator repaired and ready for work!  After over a month of making do, we fired up our back-up generator and flipped the switch!  Oh, the relief!  The generator ran flawlessly, pumping our water and charging our batteries with ease.  We are back!!

Our main generator is still in the shop.  We are having the mechanic look at it before repairing it, then we'll decide if we're better off replacing or repairing - one step at a time. 

We have found that maintaining an off-grid lifestyle requires constant creativity and tenacity.  It requires ingenuity, perseverance and a hardy dose of rugged individualism.  Not to mention a liberal draught of blood, sweat and tears.

Oh, to live the off-grid life!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Autumn Ingathering

We have been enjoying beautiful fall weather - perfect for putting the garden to bed and preparing for winter hibernation.  Today I picked and received a bounty of goodness - peppers and tomatoes from our small garden, pears from my tenacious garden growing neighbor Patrice and apples and plums from Maid Elizabeth (her new property has beautiful fruit trees).  We'll dehydrate our peppers, can the pears and eat the tomatoes and plums fresh.  What bounty!  The few apples Maid Elizabeth brought over today we'll eat fresh (they're sooo good!), however, this weekend we plan on taking our cider press to her house and pressing apple cider - such a perfect fall enterprise!

Peppers and tomatoes out of our garden

Pears and apples and plums, oh my!

Notice the fire bricks stacked on the end of the cook stove - we'll be putting them in the stove soon!
I still have ripening tomatoes.  I can only hope the weather cooperates long enough for them to ripen on the vine.  If so, we'll have enough to can and enjoy them this winter.  Our Hugelkulture beds have surpassed our expectations and we can't wait to plant a huge garden next spring, and hopefully reap a harvest that dwarfs this years offerings.

Almost ready
I hope you're enjoying this sweet season of ingathering.  May your storerooms be full to overflowing!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Abundant Provisions

Have you ever read Laura Ingalls Wilder's "On the Shores of Silver Lake"?  Remember when her family had the good fortune to spend the winter in the surveyors cabin?  One of the most memorable experiences for Laura was the pantry - filled to the brim with barrels of food, overflowing with provisions and packed with every good thing to eat.  Laura had never seen such abundance, and the Ingalls family had never experienced such ample bounty.  Not only did Laura and her family benefit from the wealth of provisions cached in the surveyors cabin,  numerous settlers counted themselves blessed by the Ingalls women's industrious use of the cabin's bounty.

Alphabetized list for the storeroom

Our storeroom master list

Empty (or nearly empty) jars to be filled

Filled and ready for the shelf

Another crate full of jars
Our stored food brings to me the same feelings of security and plenty that the surveyors cabin brought to Laura.  I love to see barrels, filled to the brim, line the walls of our storeroom.  I think jars full of dry good, tidily labeled and standing at the ready, are a beautiful thing to behold.  I take great comfort in the knowledge that my family will be well fed, even in times of want, along with anyone else who seeks refuge in our humble home. 

Every fall I scrub our kitchen shelves, cleaning the jars, tidying the china and organizing all the utensils.  It is a huge job because the shelves are large and our shouse seems to magnetically attract dirt.  I clean shelf by shelf, scrubbing the shelves with hot, soapy water and washing each jar as I go.  I organize and clean, getting ready for the fall harvest and fill my gallon jars with dry goods from our storeroom. 


Dehydrated  potatoes
Hard White Wheat
Today was the day to tackle the shelves with the gallon jars.  I have roughly 30 (1) gallon jars, filled with dry beans, various types of wheat, cereals and baking supplies.  I have jars filled with chocolate chips, pecans and homemade granola.  Popcorn, dehydrated potatoes and apple slices sit next to turbinado sugar and powdered milk.  These are jars I use every day while making meals for my family.  Some, of course, are refilled frequently while others are only filled two or three times a year.

As I write this, I am gazing upon true beauty - freshly cleaned kitchen shelves with row after row of jars filled to the brim with an abundance of provisions.   We are blessed beyond measure.