Monday, August 22, 2016

One clear night

We have had probably 10 straight days of rain. Some days have been up to two  inches of rain, which has caused flooding in many areas. Last night, though, (8/19/2016) the skies cleared nicely and the stars and moon were shining brightly.

I grabbed my camera to step outside and play with the settings in an effort to take a picture of the beautiful moon. It took a few tries of changing the settings, but I finally got a shot I was pleased with.

Our new homestead has fewer trees and hardly a clear night goes by that I am not awed by the starry splendor of the heavens. Our former residence was thick with trees and we rarely got a glimpse of the stars, the moon, or the milky way over there.

So, tell me what you think about this shot of the moon.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Pressure cooking dinner

If you own a pressure cooker or even a pressure canner, you can cook just about your whole meal in that one pot and have a meal done in under 30 minutes.

I have an old 8 quart Mirro pressure canner. It’s fine for small canning projects and meets all requirements to be a pressure canner. But my favorite thing to really do with it is prepare food for meals, just like I did tonight.

Our menu consisted of barbecue pork (from pork I canned a couple of weeks ago), fresh whole green beans, red skin potatoes, fried squash, and bread and butter along with some fresh tomatoes cut into wedges. So, what role did the pressure canner play? I cooked the green beans, potatoes, and the barbecue pork in it, all together.

In the bottom, I placed the green beans with some onion, a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce, and about a half tablespoon of sorghum molasses and the broth drained from the home canned pork. I added about a cup or two of water to that.

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On top of the green beans, I put some unpeeled, cut up red skin potatoes in a small aluminum loaf pan.

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In the jar of home canned pork, I put a few tablespoons of good barbecue sauce and about a teaspoon and a half of adobo sauce with one of the chili peppers. I snuggled the jar of pork next to the pan of potatoes, letting it rest on the green beans in the bottom so it didn’t have direct contact with the bottom of the pan.

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I put the lid on the pressure canner and put the weight on 15 pounds, started the heat, and let that all cook for about 10 minutes after it came up to pressure.

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While that was cooking, I prepped some fresh yellow squash and got it started frying with cornmeal, some flour, salt and pepper.

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In the time it took me to fry the squash, the cooker got finished and I let it depressurize and cool a bit before taking the weight off. (In canning, I would have let it fully depressurize and cool, but for cooking you can safely remove the weight and let the pressurized steam be released.)

The squash turned out beautiful and delicious.

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Dinner was put on the table and onto our plates, where we really over-ate on all this yumminess!

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Since we’re off grid now (the fan you see in a picture above runs from the generator on especially hot days or to draw cooking heat out of the cabin), saving cooking fuel of any kind is very important. A pressure cooker is so versatile and useful for saving fuel and preparing delicious, homemade meals!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Off grid granola recipe

We love homemade granola, and when I make it, I make a lot. I just finished making a gallon of it for just 2 of us here. You only need about 1/2 cup per serving. Add some fresh cold milk and you have the best cold cereal around. In cold weather cook it up like oatmeal for a hot and satisfying breakfast or as a snacking trail-mix type treat anytime. I have also mixed some into muffins or quick breads for a special taste treat. I have been making my own granola since the early 70s and we have always loved it!

To be perfectly honest, my granola turns out differently every time I make it because I might have slightly different things to add to it. But, here is an approximate recipe of how I made granola today. Since I don’t have a conventional stove right now, I made this granola in a skillet and cooked it on a small butane emergency stove. (This is a single burner stove that is safe to use indoors.) You could also do this over an open fire, on a wood cook stove, on a rocket stove, or any other way you want to cook outdoors or indoors. Normally, I would put this into a roaster and bake it in the oven, stirring 2 or 3 times till it’s toasty and brown.

Besides the ingredients I listed and used in my latest version of this granola recipe, I have also added 1/2 cup or so of wheat germ, sesame seeds, chopped nuts such as pecans or walnuts, chopped prunes, dried chopped apricots, pine nuts, and many other nuts and dried fruits, locally made sorghum molasses, brown sugar. Add things you and your family like. Let your imagination and personal tastes guide you.

Ann’s Granola

Step 1

  • 2 quarts old fashioned oats
  • 2 cups flaked coconut
  • 1 cup unsalted sunflower kernels
  • 1/4 cup wheat bran
  • 1 cup raw honey
  • 1/2 cup cooking oil (use a neutral flavored oil)
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Mix these together well in a large bowl, being sure all oats are at least touched by the oil and honey. They don’t need to be heavily coated by either. Put half of this into an iron skillet, set on a medium-low fire. Let it toast about 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove to clean bowl and toast the other half of the oat mixture. Remove that to a bowl and allow both bowls of oat mixture to cool thoroughly.

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Dates, raisins, honey, banana chips, cinnamon, coconut, salt.

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 Oat mix in skillet

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Untoasted on left; toasted on right.

Step 2

  • One cup raisins
  • 1/2 to 1 cup chopped dates
  • 2 cups banana chips (I dehydrated these myself.)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Mix together, then toss together with the cooled oat mixture. (Adding to warm mixture will result in rock-hard fruits and melted chocolate chips!) Store in tightly covered container.

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After the fruit is added

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A serving in my bowl. Thumbs upRolling on the floor laughing

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

New homestead generator issues

I’ve had a small generator for several years. It’s a Buffalo Tools Sportsman, 1500 running watts/2000 watt surge. A couple of years ago I had the carburetor replaced by a mechanic because I had run regular gas in it, which turned the carb all chalky and it wouldn’t work. The genny wouldn’t start. After he fixed it, it ran great and started easily.

Then, we wound up letting it sit for way too long without running it and it got all gummed up inside. We changed out the gas, using our usual gas treatment to help the carb stay good, cleaned the carb the best we could, but still it wouldn’t start. Changed the oil. We even put a new spark plug in it, but no go.

So, I went to Harbor Freight and picked up a little 900 watt generator. It’s a 2-cycle engine and doesn’t get as good run time on fuel at the Sportsman did, but we needed it to backup our solar. However, it still didn’t actually do a very good job and it ran out of gas quickly. Took it back for a refund and they charged me a $25 restocking fee. (I really think those are a rip-off.) Otherwise, they refunded me the purchase price plus the extended warranty I’d bought.

Headed over to Tractor Supply, where they had a 1400 watt/1600 watt surge generator in stock. We brought it home and it did a pretty good job, but it started leaking gas badly, so we boxed it up and headed back to TSC. They gave us a full refund including the extended warranty.

But now, we’re sitting with no generator as backup power. So, we started looking online and found we could get a new carburetor for the old generator for about $12 with free shipping if you have Amazon Prime. I signed up for Prime, ordered the new carb with 2 day free shipping, and headed home. Sure enough, ordering the part on Sunday meant I got it on Tuesday. We changed out the carbs, did some fine tuning (we are NOT mechanics but did the best we could) and now it’s running like a dream.

I was able to use it to run my little portable washing machine and do 4 loads of laundry, plus we can run the regular fans with it to cool the cabin a bit. Another awesome thing is that we can run our little chest freezer now and then to keep food cold but not frozen and thereby the chest freezer becomes a chest fridge!

We also use it once a day to charge up any batteries and electronic devices that need charging. I bought a small battery charger in case the solar batteries need topping up after a few days of clouds plus we can charge the truck battery with it and the battery that powers our 12volt well pump. The battery charger can plug straight into the generator or we can use a power strip and plug the charger into that.

We’re on the new homestead! Solar power update!

It’s early morning as I sit at my kitchen table in my cabin, drinking my first cup of coffee and writing. The sun is just coming up and is streaming into the window and pouring across the table. I’ve already fed the chickens, cleaned the composting toilet, and started my day. (As soon as possible, we’ll have a flush toilet in the cabin. Still need to get more sewer plumbing put in and a gravity fed system to fill the tank for flushing. We plan to use gray water for that.)

We made the final move to the off-grid cabin.

It hasn’t been exactly smooth sailing. I won’t paint you any rosy pictures of glamour or romance in living off grid. But it’s not super difficult, either. It has its ups and downs, just like any lifestyle does. In upcoming blog posts, I’ll share those ups and downs with you, and I’ll also make some short videos to upload to my YouTube channel so you can get a better idea of what’s going on.

We now know that we need at least two more batteries for the solar array. Four more would be best. We also need at least another 200 watts of solar panels. The mere 205 watts plus a little 10 watt panel just aren’t quite enough to power even our few needs.

We are able to operate our 1.9 watt LED RV lights, though we need probably 6 more of them to get all corners lit up. We have 3 coal oil lamps, one of which needs a new glass chimney, to supply part of our lighting needs. These will be nice in the winter when the extra heat they generate will be more appreciated.

Our 750 watt inverter bit the dust, so we’re now depending on a very small 200 watt inverter plus the generator to run the fans and charge various devices. like this laptop I’m using now. The little LED lights run straight from the solar charge controller, at least, and we’re hoping to get more things that can use straight solar instead of the inverters. You lose 15% to 20% of your power through the inverters.