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.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Berry Hunting Hike...

56 degrees - 10:47 pm - calm night...

Grabbing the kids and camera, we headed out to hike around the property this afternoon.  As we’re hiking along we kept coming upon bushes teaming with ripe (some not so much), juicy berries!  So our hike turned into a berry hunting hike - how many edible berries can we find?...

Oregon Grape {Mahonia nervosa}
The Oregon Grape is not related to true grapes, but gets its name from the purple cluster of berries whose color and slightly dusted appearance are reminiscent of grapes.  The berries are highly acidic (sour), but they make a delicious jam.

Salal {Gaultheria shallon}
The Salal’s dark blue berries and young leaves are both edible, and both have a unique flavor.  Salal berries were a significant food resource for Native Americas, who ate them fresh and dried them into cakes.  More recently, the berries are used in james, preserves and pies.  They are often combined with Oregon Grape berries because the tartness of the Oregon Grape is partially masked by the mild sweetness of the Salal berries.

Stink Currant aka Blue Currant {Ribes bracteosum}
Stink Currant is named for its skunky aroma.  It’s far less pungent than Skunk Cabbage, and the name doesn’t always translate to flavor.  It seems that the flavor of these berries can range anywhere from nasty to delicious. 

Red Elderberry {Sambucus racemosa}
Some references say Red Elderberries are edible, some say they are not.  Basically what I have found out is that if you eat a lot of raw, whole, Red Elderberries, you will most likely end up with an upset stomach.  If they are deseeded and cooked, then they are just fine.

Blue Elderberry aka Blue Elder {Sambucus cerulea}
Whether it be red or blue, Elderberries are easy to like.  They are user-friendly.  Jam, jelly, pies, syrup, schnapps, brandy and wine can all be made from those tiny little berries.  The flowers are also edible and can be used in pancakes and muffins or just dipped in batter and fried.  They also make a nice tea.

Red Huckleberry {Vaccinium parvifolium}
These delicate translucent berries have been a source of food for generations of Northwest natives, animals and people alike.  As heavily used as they are, not everyone enjoys their tangy-tart flavor.  It is for this reason that the Red Huckleberries are usually combines with other berries, like the Blueberry to add sweetness.

Evergreen Huckleberry {Vaccinium ovatum}
Any hiker in the Pacific Northwest worth his or her weight in Huckleberries, know that late summer hiking has joys all its own...of a juicy, purple/blue variety.  The wild Blue Huckleberry is a very coveted berry.  Pickers often find themselves competing with Black bears, cougars, and other native animals for the sweet, juicy huckleberries which are just delicious in pies, jam, pancakes, muffins, ice cream, syrup, and oh so much more.

Oval Leaf Blueberry aka Alaska Blueberry aka Early Blueberry
{Vaccinium ovalifolium}
The wild Blueberries that we found in our yard are likely the most well know berry on our list of berries we’ve found here.  And personally I think they taste just as good if not better than the ones bought in the store.  I even had to pick a handful so I can make Blueberry pancakes in the morning.

Salmonberry {Rubus spectabilis}
The Salmonberry, Thimbleberry, Trailing Blackberry and Black Caps all share the fruit structure of the Raspberry, with the fruit pulling away from its receptacle.  Books often call the Salmonberry “insipid” but depending on ripeness and where you found them, they are good eaten raw and when processed into jam, jelly and wine.

Thimbleberry {Rubus parviflorus}
Thimbleberries are larger, flatter, and softer than Raspberries, and have many small seeds.  Because the fruit is so soft, it does not pack or ship well, so Thimbleberries are rarely cultivated commercially.  However, wild Thimbleberries can be eaten raw, dried or made into jam.

Trailing Blackberry {Rubus ursinus}
This Blackberry is not the big brambly invasive bully lining area rivers and roadways.  Our native Trailing Blackberry likes to spread.  Instead of forming self supported brambles, it rambles about the landscape as a vine-like ground cover, but tastes just as delicious as the brambly Blackberry.

Black Cap aka Wild Black Raspberry {Rubus occidentalis}
The Black Cap or Black Raspberries are closely related to the Red Raspberry but the black fruit makes them look like Blackberries.  Even though many may get them confused, they have a taste that is uniquely their own.

...quite a few actually!  I just love having all these delicious wild edible berries around our home!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Board and Batten Siding...

54 degrees - 10:00 am - foggy and drizzling...

What kind of siding do you use when you live out in the middle of nowhere, on a mountain ridge, and want the home to look like it belongs there?  We decided the answer was Board and Batten siding.

Board and batten siding is the underdog of siding systems, but we like it for the following reasons:  it has the potential to be visually clean and crisp; it has a timeless look and weather nicely if implemented correctly; the system takes the natural expansion and contraction of materials into consideration; it’s been around for a long time; it’s durable; and it will fit in nice with our surroundings.

If you don’t know what Board & Batten Siding is, it’s a vertical design created using wide clear or knotty cedar boards spaced apart with narrower boards (battens) covering the joins.  There is no set board or batten widths – carious combinations are used to create different looks suitable for large or small-scale applications.  A frequent combination is 1”x3” battens and 1”x10” boards.  Rough sawn boards or boards surfaced on one side and two edges are also commonly used with the combination of 1”x2” batten and 1”x12” boards.

Here are some examples of Board and Batten Siding...




Busy Summer...

53 degrees - 9:09 am - foggy and drizzling...

Sorry for the lack of posts recently.  We have been so busy lately (off the mountain, instead of on the mountain), and the summer is just flying by.  I hate it and love it all at the same time.  Here we are at the end of July with August just around the corner, which is promising to be just as busy.  Hope everyone is having a great summer!

The forked horn buck decided to take a rest in the backyard a few nights ago.
At least someone is getting to enjoy the backyard.

Friday, July 20, 2012


64 degrees - 9:08 am - overcast...

Last night we had a booming thunderstorm with an awesome light show that continued into this morning.  Here are a few pictures...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Looking Back...

57 degrees - 10:46 am - cloudy...

Looking out the windows of our home, you see an amazing view of valleys and mountains.

The view of the 4,364 foot tall mountain that we wake up to every morning is a popular destination for hikers due to the fantastic 360 degree panoramic viewpoint from the top.  On a clear day you can see five Cascade volcanoes: Rainier, St Helens, Adams, Hood and Jefferson.  It is also a former lookout site; the only thing remaining is a leftover foundation of the fire tower on the summit.

Another neat aspect of this mountain is the “Indian Pits” out on an eastern ridge, where there are about 6 strange hollowed-out pits.  Long ago these pits, along with others found along the Columbia Gorge, were made by removing heavy chunks of basalt and stacking them around the rims of the man-sized depressions.

Who built the crude pits or why is not fully known.  Anthropologists suggest that Native American Indians dug and used the pits for meditation or vision quests.  Their often spectacular locations would suggest that inspiration was an important consideration in selecting pit sites.  With few exceptions, they are positioned with sweeping views of river and sky where sunrise, sunsets and the heavens could be fully experienced.

We have had several friends hike the eastern ridge of the mountain and they have taken photos looking back at our place.  We see the mountain every day, so it’s neat to see the mountain looking back at us.

This picture was take by a friend this past weekend. 
The arrow is pointing to our house.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Buck, Doe, Fawns...

53 degrees - 7:52 am - blue sky, fog is slowly creeping up from the creek...

Another buck came strolling thru the yard yesterday.

This forked horn buck is different from the three-point we saw a few days ago.

The buck was sent running when the twin fawns and their momma showed up.

These little ones are sooooo cute to watch run and jump around!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cast Iron Skillet Brownies...

61 degrees - 10:08 pm - quiet night...

Just many of you out there cook with cast iron? 

I didn’t until recently.  Can I just say that I now love cooking with cast iron.  Not because it’s fancy and super duper high tech.  It’s quite the opposite.  It’s a heavy duty, mean, rustic, non-stick multi-purpose machine!

Whether it be enchiladas, cornbread, frito beef skillet, or brownies, I know I can count on my cast iron skillet to deliver the goods.

Here are some helpful facts about cast iron that you should know:

Bare Cast Iron – Types of bare cast-iron cookware include dutch ovens, frying pans, deep fryers, tetsubin, woks, potjies, flattop grills and griddles.  Bare cast-iron vessles have been used for cooking for hundreds of years.  Cast iron’s ability to withstand and maintain very high cooking temperatures make it a common choice for searing or frying, and its excellent heat diffusion and retention makes it a good option for long-cooking stews or braised dishes.  Because cast iron skillets can develop an extremely “non-stick” surface, they are also a good choice for egg dishes, particularly scrambled eggs.  Other uses of cast iron pans include making cornbread, peach cobbler and pineapple upside-down cake.

Health Effects – Cast iron cookware leaches small amounts of iron into the food.  Anemics, and those with iron deficiencies, may benefit from this effect, thought those with excess iron issues (for example, people with hemochromatosis) may suffer negative effects.

Seasoning – A seasoned pan has a stick-resistant coating created by polymerized oils and fats.

How To Season Your Cast Iron – 1.Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Position one rack in the top third of the oven.  Position another rack in the bottom third of the oven and place an empty foil lined baking sheet on the bottom rack.  This sheet will catch any drippings from the cast iron. 
2.Open your windows or turn on your stove hood fan.  There may be a bit of smoke. 
3.Over a medium flame, rub a thin layer (about 1 Tablespoon) of vegetable shortening (like Crisco), oil, or bacon grease works great too, all over the inner bottom and sides of the pan with a paper towel and tongs. 
4.Place the oiled pan upside down in the heated oven over the foil lined baking sheet. 
5.Bake the cast iron for 1 hour.  Turn the oven off and allow the cast iron to cool to room temperature in the oven.  Repeat this process 3 or 4 times for best results.
When the pan is perfectly seasoned, the inside will be smooth and shiny.

Cleaning – Because ordinary cookware cleaning techniques like scouring or washing in a dishwasher can remove or damage the seasoning on a bare cast iron pan, these pans should not be cleaned like most other cookware.  Some cast iron aficionados advocate never cleaning cast iron pans at all, simply wiping them out after use, or washing them with hot water and a stiff brush.  Others advocate washing with mild soap and water, and then re-applying a thin layer of fat or oil.  A third approach, advocated by chef Alton Brown, is to scrub with coarse salt and paper towel or clean rag.

Now that you got a little lesson on how hard this pan can is a recipe to indulge in, after your hard day at work!

~Cast Iron Skillet Brownies~
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons (half stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
8 oz chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   In a large bowl, whisk together sugar and eggs.  In another bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, and salt.

In a medium cast iron skillet, bring butter and cream to a simmer over medium heat.  Add chocolate; reduce to medium-low.  Cook, stirring constantly, until chocolate has melted, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat, and let cool 5 mintues.

Add chocolate mixture to sugar mixture, whisking until blended (reserve skillet).  Fold in flour mixture.  Pour batter into skillet.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 40 minutes.  {Note: for a gooeyer brownie bake for about 35 minutes}

For an even more decadent treat, serve with ice cream and strawberries!

This is the perfect reward after a loooong day of being super mom/wife/daughter/sister/chauffeur/housekeeper/chef/etc...


Monday, July 9, 2012

Out For A Stroll...

73 degrees - 11:35 am - gorgeous blue sky with a slight breeze...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Relaxing At The Campsite...

69 degrees - 10:22 pm - scattered clouds...

The past two weeks have been very crazy.  We have been so busy with other stuff that we haven’t even gotten to work on the house at all.  This evening we were finally able to slow down, sit back, and relax a bit. 

The past few days it has been in the high 80’s, and when it gets this hot out we like to head down to the campsite where it is a bit cooler.  Tonight was the perfect end to a very crazy week.  Kids played in the creek, cooked hot dogs over a campfire (which I believe is the only way to cook hot dogs!), listened to a thunder storm pass nearby and spent some time with a few family and friends.

the boys found a shedded snake skin

even though it's in the high 80s,
you can never go wrong with a campfire!

the girls are checking out the creek

the "cooler" - keeps the drinks ice cold

gotta end the evening with roasted marshmallows


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