Some people may not know what off-the-grid or off-grid means, so here it is --- The term off-the-grid or off-grid refers to living in a self-sufficient manner without reliance on one or more public utilities.

Off-grid living is no longer a one room log cabin in the woods. It's energy independency. You don't have to rely on utility companies, you create your own power. Today, there are more than 180,000 off-grid homes in the US.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Slipforms – Rock Hunting...

9:23 pm - 57 degrees - cloudy...

The rock hunt has started, so far I’ve gathered 18 sq ft of rock! 

My goal is to only pay for concrete and coloring oxide mix.  The rock will be collected from around the mountain.  The slipforms will be made from scrap materials lying around the house.  And I’m hoping to find some scrap wire and rebar somewhere.
Two days of gather rocks - 6' x 3' pile.

Our home is a 36’x36’ square and I plan on rocking the first 4 feet all the way around the house with slipforms {click here} – so that equals 544 sq ft of surface area that I’ll need to rock.  Actually, I will need less rock than that due to door and window openings, but I’d rather have more rock than needed on hand.

Over the years we have dug up so much rock we have piles of it everywhere, so I have started to dig through those piles looking for rocks that have at least one flat side and nice coloring.  I have also been walking around the mountain and just picking up nice rocks here and there that are lying on the ground. 

Now that I have a small pile going, I think I need to actually start sorting them out according to size – small, medium, large, extra large.  This will help when it comes time to actually building the wall – I can go to the specific size pile that I need instead of having to dig through one large jumbled mess.

I’ll also have an “uglies” pile – the rocks that go behind the front flat-faced stones – these will be used as filler, we’ll use less concrete that way.

Sorting rocks - small, medium, large, extra large.

Since almost all of our rocks have a rough, jagged look to them, we will have a “random rubble” look.  Random Rubble walls don’t have perfectly square or rectangular rocks or stones laying in nice straight rows, instead it’s a technique in which a coursed or obviously horizontal seaming effect is avoided.  A random rubble wall is just that – random.  Stones of various shapes and sizes are placed according to their best fit.  This technique is perfect for a beginner since there isn’t any cutting or fitting of stones required.

As I sort out the rocks, I’ll also have to clean them off.  Any loose dirt, debris or anything else that can end up between the rock and the concrete needs to be removed – a clean surface is needed for the concrete to properly adhere to the rock to produce a strong wall.  With that being said, I’m keeping the lichen on the front flat-faced rocks.  I’ll clean the lichen off all the other side’s where the concrete needs to adhere to, but I like the unique designs the lichen creates and I think it will add more interest.

Rock with lichen on the end.

Rock covered in lichen.

Rock covered in lichen.

With the use of the natural, rough, jagged looking rocks, I think our home will reflect that same characteristic and will have an interesting rugged appearance.  I can’t wait to see what the finished product will look like!

“The fact that the stones are used in their natural state as they come from the fields on which the house is build, gives a sense of self-improvement through thrift, rather than by acquisition from others... The material itself combines that sense of permanence, solidity and security so necessary for the establishment of a home.” ~ Frazier Peters, HOUSES OF STONE 1933

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Slipform Stone Walls...

1:33 pm - 50 degrees - raining...

I have mentioned before how we are kind of doing everything backwards, with a lot of shoulda’, coulda’, woulda’s being learned along the way.  That was not intentional, that is just how it has turned out. 

What do I mean by ‘doing everything backwards’?  Well, the second floor is further along than the first floor.  More accurately, the first floor doesn’t really exist yet... our home kind of looks like a one level on stilts – I currently park my rig under the house, in what will one day be the foyer.  Now you understand what I mean by doing stuff backwards.  Instead of building from the floor up, we are building from the roof down.  Once again, that was not intentional, that is just how it has turned out.

The other day Tony jokingly said that my summer project could be to slipform the downstairs exterior walls.  I had no clue what that was, so after a quick Google search, I said “YES!  That is going to be my summer project!”  I don’t think that is the response he was expecting.

Slipform stone construction has been used for over 100 years.  It is a method for making a reinforced concrete wall with stone facing in which stones and mortar are built up in courses within reusable slipforms. 

Slipforms are short forms, up to 2 feet high that are placed wall thickness apart, these forms serve as a guide for the stone work.  The flat-faced stones are placed inside the forms with the good faces against the form work.  Any stone with a flat face on at least one side can be used, and they don’t have to be very thick to cover a fair amount of wall.  Concrete is poured in behind the rocks, filling in the concrete with what are called “uglies”, or stones without a flat face, to use less concrete.  Rebar is added for strength, to make a wall that is approximately half reinforced concrete and half stonework. 

(photo source: Pinterest)

(photo source: Pinterest)

The slipformed walls can be faced with stone on one side or both sides.  After the concrete sets enough to hold the wall together, the forms are “slipped” up to pour the next level.  With slipforms it is easy for a novice to build free-standing stone walls.

Slipforming combines stone masonry and concrete work to form a wall that shares the attributes of both.  Slipforming lets the builder create a flat or plumb stone wall that has the beauty and strength with the reinforcement of concrete and steel, without using masonry skills, making it less expensive and more accessible to the layperson.  The final product is long-lasting, low maintenance, and virtually weather and fireproof.

(photo source: Pinterest)

I have been very adamant about wanting stone to go all the way around the house on the first level, but we have been hesitant because of the cost.  This is a perfect solution, although extremely labor intensive.  There will still be the cost for cement and rebar, but I believe we can dig up enough stones around our property to build the exterior walls, which will be a foot and a half thick.  And it will be progress!  I’m always excited when there’s progress on the house.

I have one month to research and gather supplies before the kids are out of school and I will have the time to start slipping rocks and concrete together. 

  X  Level
  X  Wheelbarrow
  X  Buckets (haul cement and small rocks)
      Cement Mix (gas or electric)
  X  Scrap lumber to build slipforms
      Stones (various sizes)
  X  Used motor oil (paint faces of slipforms –easier to pull away from dried cement)

My two research books just arrived from Amazon!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Blackberry and Red Raspberry Freezer Jam...

11:50 am - 52 degrees - scattered clouds...

Yesterday I had some extra time so I decided to make some freezer jam.  I ended up with 9 jars of Blackberry, 9 jars of Raspberry and 9 jars of Strawberry freezer jam.  Yummm!!

Delicious Freezer Jam.
Setting up for 24 hours before it goes into the freezer.

Freezer jam is hands-down my favorite kind of jam.  With no-cook freezer jam you get to preserve the bounty of summer without the fuss, heat, equipment, and time that canned cooked jams require.  Uncooked freezer jam is slightly different than the cooked jams.  It doesn’t have that thick, cooked-down texture and flavor.  Instead, it looks and tastes like the ripe fruit.  If you were to compare a jar of raspberry (or any other flavor) freezer jam and raspberry traditional cooked jam, I think you’d be shocked at the difference.  Regular cooked jam becomes quite dull in color as it cooks, where as freezer jam retains the same pretty color as the fresh berries you started with.

Freezer jam does have two drawbacks.  The first drawback is it’s not shelf-stable.  For long-term storage, all freezer jam must go in the freezer – hence the name.  However, if you don’t have a ton of freezer space, freezer jam can be prepared and poured into quart-size Ziploc bags.  Squeeze out the air, seal the bags and stack them flat in the freezer.  When you need more jam, just thaw a bag, empty the contents of the bag into a jar, put it into the fridge and enjoy.

The second drawback (well, not really) is our kids got so used to eating delicious homemade freezer jam that it didn’t take long before they were sticking their noses up at store-bought jam, and every other kind of jam or jelly, except for freezer jam.  I can’t blame them though because honestly we all prefer the fresh, delicious taste of freezer jams.

To make freezer jam, all you need is ripe fruit, sugar, and pectin.  That’s it!  Quick and easy and before you know it, you’ll be proudly scooping up homemade jam for toast, biscuits, scones, waffles, pancakes, crepes, ice cream, smoothies, cake filling, etc!

Filling up jars of red raspberry freezer jam!

~Blackberry or Red Raspberry Freezer Jam~
3 cups crushed fresh blackberries or red raspberries
5 1/4 cups sugar
1 pkg Sure Jell Premium Fruit Pectin
3/4 cup water

Mash the berries with a potato masher or in a food processor until slightly chunky (not pureed).  Jam should have bits of fruit.  Once the berries are crushed to a size you want, measure out 3 cups and put into a large bowl.

Stir sugar into the berries, mixing well.  Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir 1 box of pectin and 3/4 cup water in a 1-quart saucepan.  Bring to a boil on high heat, stirring constantly.  Boil for 1 minute, while still stirring constantly. 

Pour hot pectin mixture over berry mixture.  Stir constantly for 3 minutes or until sugar is completely dissolved and no longer grainy; whichever is longer.  (A few sugar crystals may remain).

Immediately spoon jam into washed and prepared containers, leaving 1/2 –inch headspace.  Wipe rims of containers and seal.  Let stand at room temperature for about 24 hours or until set.

Store in the freezer for up to a year, or store in the refrigerator for 3-4 weeks.  Thaw frozen jam and stir before serving.

{Note:  You must measure carefully, jam making is an exact process and if you don’t measure correctly, you’ll have unsuccessful results.  Measure the exact amount of sugar, reducing the sugar or using a sugar substitutes will result in set failures.  If you want to make more than one batch, do not try to double the recipe, instead make two separate batches.  We usually have several batches, all in their own bowls, going at the same time.}

For the Strawberry Freezer Jam recipe {click here}.

--- Enjoy!

Digging For Razor Clams...

11:30 am - 51 degrees out - scattered clouds...

Eating locally grown food is great, but when you are able to go directly to the foods source and harvest it yourself, that’s even better!

Our last trip to the Long Beach Peninsula, (which was a couple weeks ago) just happened to coincide with clamming season.  Yea!!!

The kids and I have never been digging for clams before.  There is a stock pile of clam-digging supplies at our beach property, but we’ve never used them.  But this trip, we thought we’d give it a try.

Long Beach locals swear that clam-digging is in their blood.  But, for us newbie’s, it was a very fun (and gross) learning experience.

First, we dug out our clam-digging supplies and made sure there were enough clam guns for everyone.  Then we ran into town to get our clamming licenses at Jack’s Country Store along with a list of the clamming tides.  All clam-diggers 15 years of age or older must have an applicable clamming license to harvest razor clams on any beach.  Children don’t need a license as long as they’re with an adult who has one.

Swung by Jack's Country Store to grab a clamming license.

After not so patiently waiting for the clamming tide to come, I got all the kids (4 total) and supplies loaded into our rig and we headed for the beach – with no clue how to properly clam dig!

We dragged our clam guns and netted bags down to the wet sand, to an area that was still nice and smooth, away from all the other clam-diggers.  We were told to look for air bubbles or dimples in the sand, so we started wandering around looking.  After about a minute or so, we found a “dimple”.  I called the kids over so we could all see what would happen when I plunged the long, cylindrical tube of aluminum into the sand, plugged the tiny air hole on the handle, and pulled it back up out of the sand... and was rewarded with jumping up and down and shouts of excitement since we had just dug up our first clam!

Our first razor clam!
Razor Clam

Things got a little crazy after that first clam was dug up.  Kids were running back and forth shouting “I found a dimple!”, “ACK, it squirted me!”, “GOT ONE!” and so on.  It was quite amusing to watch as they ran around from dimple to dimple, placing their clam guns over the center of the dimple, and do their little squiggle dance as they plunged their gun into the wet sand.  When they pulled up all the sand contained within the gun, dumping the contents to the side, they quickly dug through that pile or dove down into the hole to grab that clam.    

We found dimples!  AKA Razor Clam Show.

Clam-digging cousins.

Our last razor clam of the day.

It only took about a half an hour for all of us to reach our limit of 15 razor clams each.  Being new to this, our razor clams weren’t all perfect, we did manage to cut a few in half when we plunged the clam gun into the sand, but all clam-diggers are required to keep the first 15 clams they dig up, regardless of size or if you accidentally cut them in half.

Everyone had a lot of fun digging for the clams, but the clean-up...well that wasn’t as much fun.  In fact, it was gross, but we got the job done.  If you want to clean your own clams, it’s a good idea to look up how to clean them first so you may clean them safely and correctly (click here for instructions).  Of if you don’t want to clean them yourself, you can drop them off at a local seafood store or cannery to have them professionally cleaned and vacuum-packed.

We really did luck out.  We had an absolutely perfect evening and great success for our first clam-dig. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Let's Get The Gardening Started...

9:06 pm - 52 degrees - clear, calm night...

For the past two evenings, when the sun starts to set behind the mountain, I have gone inside smelling like dirt.  Actually the kids smell like dirt also.  The kids have been running around, playing, enjoying the sunshine, and somehow manage to get covered in dirt from head to toe.  While I have been busy potting plants, I am only covered in dirt up to my elbows.  I love Springtime.

Good news...I am so excited to start planting!  Not so good news...all the plants I ordered (from various locations) came at the same time.  Now I'm a tad bit overwhelmed, trying to get all 236 plants in pots or in the ground.

So far I have...
---55 of the 120 bare root strawberry plants placed 1 gallon pots.
---20 of the 75 huckleberry starts in 1 gallon pots.
---still have to find a location and plant the 4 red and 2 golden raspberry starts.
---and 35 various bulbs to plant, but need to remove the grass out of the flowerbed first.

Hopefully I will have everything in pots or in the ground by the end of the weekend.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Goodbye Cooler, Hello Refrigerator...

1:17 pm - 51 degrees - blue sky, scattered clouds, light breeze...

Last week, we had a life changing event... for the past 6 years we have lived without the use of a refrigerator, and last Friday, we finally pulled our refrigerator out of the storage unit and brought it home! 

You simply cannot imagine my level of excitement! 

When we first moved up here 6 years ago, our only power source was a small Honda generator – not big enough to do much of anything other than run small power tools, charge cell phones and charge our laptop.  So our 2-year-old refrigerator went, with the majority of the rest of our belongings, to the storage unit. 

In the beginning, to solve our refrigeration issue, we went to Costco and picked up an Igloo MaxCold 165 Quart cooler to use as our “fridge”.  It worked, it did what it was supposed to, and we were definitely glad to have it.  I believe that we learned how to function very well using a cooler as a fridge.

Fast forward six years, I now have a love-hate relationship with the cooler.  I obviously loved it because it was our “fridge”.  I didn’t love it because the cooler gobbled up large bags of ice just about every other day (I don’t even want to know how much money we spent on bags of ice over the past six years), and even though it is a fairly large cooler – space was definitely limited... the dislikes could on, but I’m stopping there.

Back to the exciting news!  Even though our off-grid power system isn’t 100% completed yet, we do now have enough power to run our energy efficient wide-by-side refrigerator and freezer!  We now have a freezer here too!!!  Oh, such a happy day and a complete life changer!!!

Refrigeration is one of my top four things that I have missed most while living off-grid.  I wonder what your top four things you would miss the most would be?

Mine have been an inside flushing toilet (check!), washer & dryer (check!), real refrigerator (check!), and running hot water (coming soon!).

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Aebleskiver – Danish Pancake Balls...

12:02 pm - 38 degrees - raining...

The kids and I were at my parents’ house yesterday when my dad started rummaging through their kitchen cabinets, pulling out extra cast iron pots and pans and asking if I would like to have them.  Of course I would!  Dad pulled out this odd looking pan, I had no clue what it was for, and Mom tells me that it’s an æbleskiver pan.  Of course it is.  As I’m Googling what an æbleskiver pan is used for, Dad whips up a batch of Aebleskiver! 

Aebleskiver (pronounced: aye-bill-ski-ver, singular and plural) are like a melt-in-your mouth... donut?... beignet?...  popover?... or something else entirely?... that is formed into the shape of a ball.  Whatever they are, we all loved them!

As it turns out, Aebleskiver is nothing more exotic than a Danish pancake ball.  That’s right – pancakes shaped into balls – although this does not adequately describe the distinctive taste and texture.  And for this shaping feat, only an odd-looking pan (Lodge Cast Iron P7A3), some manual dexterity, and a little initial patience are required.

The name Aebleskiver which literally means “apple slices” in Danish, makes people believe that there are slices of apples inside, which is correct – if you put apple slices inside!  There are hundreds of ways to make Aebleskiver, and everyone has their own favorite recipe and way of serving them. 

Just a few of the many ways to make Aebleskiver!

My parents just happened to have an æbleskiver pan (which came home with me by the way), and knew how to use it!  Why have I never heard of or tasted these before?!  I can see these becoming a staple in our house hold!  They are unbelievably quick to make and oh so delicious!  So of course, I just had to share this wonderful discovery!

Here is a basic Aebleskiver recipe that you can tweak and add to...

~ Aebleskiver ~
4 eggs separated
1 tbsp. sugar
2 cups cake flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup melted butter
2 cups milk

Beat egg yolks until light.  Add sugar and beat until thickened. 

Sift the flour, salt, and baking powder together and add to the yolk mix, alternating with butter and milk. 

Beat egg whites until soft and fold into batter.  Your Aebleskiver batter should be similar to pancake batter in consistency.  You must be able to pour the batter into the cups on the pan.

Fill each cup of the æbleskiver pan 2/3 full.  Cook over medium heat until bubbly, turn with skewer or fork and cook on other side until golden brown.  (Note:  For round, rather than oval Aebleskiver, make four quarter-turns, rather than only one half-turn.  After you get the hang of turning the Aebleskiver, you will find the process quite easy.)

If desired, a small piece of cooked apple, dollop of jam, or other filling can be pressed into the center of each cup of batter before turning.

Serve with powdered sugar, syrup, honey, jam or whatever your taste buds desire.

~ Enjoy!

{Fun Fact:  How were these tasty pastry balls invented?  One theory goes something like this... Back in the good old days, when the Vikings were roaming up and down the coasts of Europe and the waters of the Atlantic, one band of these Vikings had been particularly hard hit in battle.  So, when they got back to their ship with their horn helmets and shields all dented and banged up, they decided to have one of their favorite dishes to help them regain their strength – pancakes!  In those days they did not have modern conveniences such as frying pans, so they greased their dented and dinged shields and poured the pancake batter on them over the fire and ended up with Aebleskiver!}

Freezing Rain...

9:56 am - 38 degrees - raining...

We had several days of freezing rain which left behind a thick layer of ice giving everything a beautiful semi-gloss finish.  

Although it was beautiful, it was horrible to drive in.  After the the county road and our driveway had been blown and plowed, we were left with a thick ice layer that would not go away.

We were having to chain up and drive in 4-low, 1st gear every time we traversed the super slick road and driveway.  After a day and a half of chaining up my rig to take the kids to school and go pick them up, I was able to put on and take off my chains in 5 minutes!  I think that's pretty good.

Nothing would break through that thick ice layer so we were stuck with waiting until we had a few days of warmer weather.  Tony was then able to break up the ice a bit and the above freezing temperatures and rain has done the rest.

We are now left the ugly snow...  the snow that has been plowed, blown and shoved that has dirt, mud, gravel, and rock mixed in.  

At least the driveway and road are finally melting out though!  It has now been two days since I have had to use chains.  We're still having to use 4-wheel drive in a few spots on the driveway, but after the rainfall today, we may be back to regular driving conditions!   

Winter Wildlife...

9:34 am - 38 degrees - raining...

Why hello there!  Good morning!

Cat curiosity.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Dutch Baby Pancake...

5:10 - 32 degrees - temp is dropping quickly and wind is picking up...

I have had this recipe for Dutch Babies since high school, and I absolutely love them.  A Dutch Baby Pancake, which is sometimes called a German Pancake, or a Dutch Puff – call it what you want, but think of it as a sweet cross between a crepe and a popover that takes just a few minutes to prepare and will melt in your mouth.  They are sooo delicious!

A Dutch Baby has the light delicate batter and goes great with filings just like a crepe, but when it hits the hot cast iron skillet and cooks in the oven for a bit, its sides puff up in all the airy, crispy glory of a popover.

~ Dutch Baby Pancake ~
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 eggs
2/3 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Optional toppings: 
powder sugar
fresh squeezed lemon juice
fresh berries 

Place a 10” cast-iron skillet on the middle rack of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs together until light and frothy.  Add milk, vanilla, salt and sugar, and whisk until combined.  Sift in flour, and whisk just until smooth.  Let rest for about 5 minutes.

Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven, add the butter and let melt completely, swirling the pan to allow the butter to coat the entire bottom.

Pour the batter into the skillet over melted butter, and place back into the oven. 

Bake for 15 minutes, until the Dutch Baby is puffed and golden brown.  Remove from oven and use a spatula to loosen the edges of the Dutch Baby.  (Reminder – the Dutch Baby will fall soon after being removed from the oven – it’s supposed to do that!)

Cut into wedges and serve warm.  Sprinkle with fresh squeezed lemon juice, powdered sugar, butter, cinnamon, maple syrup, fresh berries – whatever your taste buds desire!

~ Enjoy!

{Fun Fact:  Dutch Babies are tremendously popular in the Pacific Northwest.  According to local lore, they originated at a restaurant in Seattle called Manca’s Café and then became even more popular by The Original Pancake House that started in Portland, Oregon.  While these pancakes are derived from the German (Deutsche) pancake dish, it is said that the name Dutch Baby was coined by one of Victor Manca’s daughters.}


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