Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Kimberly Stove Installation Fiasco

            We have a Kimberly Stove in our basement. We bought it to heat the basement—and Mark’s new workroom—help dry clothes, and preheat, or even heat, the air flowing into the rest of the house. We were pretty excited by the purchase and had high hopes for its performance. However, we have NO IDEA how well it works, because of a series of unfortunate events. It is sitting in our basement, non-functional, four and a half months after purchase.

            For those of you who do not follow wood stove technologies, the Kimberly Stove is a fairly new design. It is a small, highly efficient, gasifying stove, which means it burns off the carbon produced by the first round of burning in a secondary chamber, thus increasing the amount of heat produced and reducing particulate pollution. It is so cool that you do not need a special chimney or chimney liner to install one, which is what drew Mark to the design. About 500 have been sold so far. They are built in Medford, Oregon, a couple of hours down the highway from our house. This is relevant to our dilemma.

            Mark purchased the Kimberly stove from Viking Vacuum, Sewing, Spa, and Stove, in Eugene Oregon, on October 25, 2014.  Because they were reluctant to drive from Eugene to Corvallis (about 40 miles), Mark sent them photos of our basement, where we wanted to install the stove. 

            We sent the photos on November 2nd. Our stove arrived in Eugene on November 14th, and we learned that the specific piping needed for installation was backlogged and hard to obtain, but it would be there shortly on November 25th. Still, we were not scheduled for installation for another two weeks.

            On December 18th, two months after the purchase, the installer arrived with stove and pipe. However, he discovered that he did not have the tools he needed to cut through the brick chimney, and was unable to install the stove. He was out a day’s work, as was Mark, who had taken the day off to be around for his new stove. Neither was pleased with the turn of events. We had to re-schedule.

            It took several weeks for the installer to come back to town. Finally, around January 8th, the stove was installed. Mark noticed that the glass was cracked when he lit it the first time. We attempted to start a fire in the stove over the weekend several times, but, when I read the instructions, it was clear that the stove would not function properly with cracked glass. Fair enough.  We contacted the stove distributor once again on January 20th, and the distributor told us that he had contacted the manufacturer that day.  As it was coming from Medford, we expected it to be here within a week.

            After several weeks, nothing had arrived. We emailed on February 1st. Nothing. Emailed again. (Perhaps the contact person had the nasty flu that was going around?) Nothing.  On February 16th, I was home for a phone call from the stove distributor. He assured me that he was on the part, that he was going to contact the designer/builder that day, and would let us know the next day when to expect it. The next day, he had talked with the manufacturer and would be back within the next day or two.

            It is now February 27th. We still do not have the needed piece of glass to make our very expensive stove functional.  I am very glad that we are not relying on the stove to provide heat for our home. However, after four and a half months of run-around, we are very frustrated. It may very well be the most amazing stove ever—but we have no idea. We have been able to use it.             It is my hope that someday I can add onto this piece, talking about how much we love our stove. Right now, I cannot recommend this very expensive piece of equipment to anyone. If fact, I would seriously discourage anyone from making the purchase.


The glass finally arrived on March 3rd. We have not installed it yet. More to follow....


           

            

Sunday, February 22, 2015

It's Spring!

Berry Alley poem

Blooming plum

compost delights

Front porch plants

Front yard

Laundry line

Mason Bee house

Mason Bees

Parsnips

peas

Poem post

one lost potato

Raspberry row

Front steps

Saint Francis
















Leek and Mustard Pie

Make a pie shell, half whole wheat, half white flour. Spread some good mustard on the bottom.

Saute two or three sliced leeks until tender.

Shred or chop cheddar cheese and lay on the mustard. Spread leeks over the cheese. Cover with a custard of three to four eggs and milk, and bake in 350 oven until set.

Eat with a good green salad.



Sunday, February 15, 2015

Menu Planning

   
   Every week, I plan out the meals we will eat, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  It saves time floundering around, looking for dinner at 6:30 in the evening, reduces food waste, and supports our local produce only efforts. There are five steps to the process.

Step one: Survey. I make a detailed list of all of the available produce. Right now, we have eggs, cabbage, onions, potatoes, parsnips, leeks, squashes, and collards on site, mustard, chard, and arugula on order, canned tomatoes and green beans in the basement, and frozen peas, spinach, and corn in the freezer. Once the list is made, I consult the week’s meeting calendar, so that I know which dinners need to be quick and which ones can involve a long time in the oven.

Step Two: Recipe box. Years ago, I copied all of my found recipes onto notecards and stored them in a plastic box. It was very handy; I could pack four or five recipes for a road trip or distant Thanksgiving meal, without hauling books along. When we shifted to our local foods challenge, I sorted them all into eight sections, one for each of the six-week festivals that we celebrate. I moved them around for a few years so that, now, the recipes match the vegetables that are in season. Menu planning always begins here.

Step Three: Lay out the plan. Once I have found the recipes that match what we have on hand, I lay out the plan. Breakfast toggles between oatmeal and granola, with more complex recipes saved for the weekends. Lunch is left-overs or a large pot of soup made on Sunday and eaten all week. Quicker dinners slot into the evenings where we have other plans. Foods that need to be prepped ahead are noted for the evening before. One weeknight is often devoted to a kitchen whirl of bread dough, yogurt, soup, and dinner.

Step Four: Shop. Once the plan is made, I write the grocery list for the week. We do a large, bulk goods shop once a month, so the weekly shop can often happen on the way home from an evening walk.  We’ll need milk, cheese, and maybe some lettuce or snacking nuts for the week. Because we have such a tight plan, the shopping is limited and very little food is wasted. By Friday, the refrigerator is empty.

Step Five: Stick to the plan. This is the most difficult aspect of the system. Some weeks, things take longer than anticipated, a meeting runs over, someone has a cold or a headache, and cooking dinner feels like one more hurdle to be jumped before the day is over. Sometimes, I’ll look over the list and shift the meals around, so that a quicker, easier meal replaces a more complex one.  Sometimes we’ll just throw potatoes in the oven and go for a walk while they bake. Sometimes we break down and go out to eat—but often, just considering where to go will force me into actually cooking dinner. Because, after all, whatever we eat, at home, will be just as tasty, better for us, and cheaper, than anything we will find outside. And, to be honest, by the time we walk to the restaurant, order, and wait, faster.


Hazelnut Shortbread: The Best Valentine’s Day cookie



Cream ½ pound of butter with ½ cup of sugar. Add ½ cup of finely ground hazelnuts and 2 cups of flour. Roll out and cut in heart shapes. Bake in 350 oven until light brown, then cool and dip in melted chocolate.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Beauty Boutique and Facebook


            When I was in my teens and early twenties, my mother owned her own beauty shop. It started out, in 1975, as The Beauty Boutique, with a psychedelic sign painted by my uncle. When she was forced to move out, bought our little ranch house, and turned the garage into her shop, she simplified the name and the sign—black and white, Lorraine Ellis, hair stylist. Her rationale—“That’s how everyone signs their checks, anyways.” The house smelled of perm solution, towels waited by the T.V. to be folded, and the cat sat on the doorstep to be admired, but never crossed the line into the shop. It was a decent living for a working class woman who never graduated from high school; she attended her Aunt Mildred’s beauty school instead.
            I never wanted to do that work. I was a tomboy with tangled hair, torn corduroy coat, and a book and a dog biscuit tucked in my pocket. I didn’t mind answering the phones, helping with taxes, or sweeping up the hair trimmings, which I spread around my gardens to scare off the deer. I liked some of her customers   One took me to volunteer at the local library every week one summer. Others gave me herbs and flowers in exchange for vegetables. Two convinced my mother that yes, we did need that fluffy kitten I cleverly brought in on Saturday afternoon, knowing that they were going to be sitting under the driers.  The work did not appeal.
            But, there was a huge benefit to the shop—whenever you needed something or had a question, we “put it out on the wire” as Malcolm X says. Within a week, the network of women who knew women who knew women, knew the answer. Home repairs, esoteric questions, houses for rent, child care questions…..the topic did not matter. Within a week, the phone would ring with the answer.
 
            Last week, I looked at my Hen on Nest sitting on the porch. “What,” I wondered, “do you actually do with that thing, besides set it on the porch, surrounded by greenery?” So I put it out on the modern-day wire, not my mother’s shop, but Facebook. Before long, the answer was clear. Candy, nuts, jelly beans, and baby teeth. It was a storage container. I have theories about why a hen, but I had the beginnings of an answer, enough to go on. And, for a little while, I was back in my mother’s beauty shop, sitting on the concrete step between the house and shop, cat peering over my shoulder.

Baked Mac and Cheese: a meal we could all agree on, even when I became vegetarian.

 Cook a pound of elbow macaroni (no sense messing around here. We need leftovers.)

While the macaroni is cooking, make a white sauce. Brown four tablespoons of flour in four tablespoons of butter. Add a quart of milk and stir until thickened. Then add grated cheddar cheese, a few handfuls, and slowly melt it in. Add salt, pepper, and dried mustard.

Get out the big casserole dish with the glass lid. Mix sauce and elbows together. (The best mac and cheese comes when you chop up all of your weird cheese ends, like provolone and cheddar, and toss the chunks into the sauced pasta. It really helps to have connections, like a daughter who works there, to the local meat and cheese counter, so you can score a few cheese ends.) Level off the contents, cover it all with sliced American cheese and some bread crumbs, and bake until bubbly.

           
                       

            

Monday, February 2, 2015

Candlemas

The rituals of our year are broken into eight seasons, revolving around the solstices and equinoxes, as well as four cross-quarter days. It is an ancient cycle, based on Northern European festivals, some of which go back thousands of years. It was a pagan system that has been incorporated into the Catholic calendar, so it feels right to me, a lapsed Catholic Transcendentalist from New England. The various festival days determine the foods we eat, the decorations on our mantle and table, and they way we view the world. Every six weeks, we walk the same loop at the local wildlife refuge, observing and recording the changes we see, eat a special dinner—usually with a pie for desert—and participate in a small ritual to reflect the season. Candlemas, which falls on February second, is the first festival of the year.

            Candlemas, also known as Imbolc and Groundhog’s Day, celebrates to first glimmers of Spring. It is not spring yet, but it is pre-spring. The light is just beginning to return In Britain, candles were brought to the church to be blessed on this day, hence the name. Plants in the Pacific Northwest  are just waking up. In the front yard, snowdrops are blooming and buds are swelling. In greenhouses, overwintering leafy crops are finally growing. We move out of cabbage season! It is a time of new beginnings, of cleaning up, trimming back, and making way for new ideas. It is unlucky to leave decorations from Christmas up any longer, so I need to take the wreath down and turn it into compost. In six weeks, at the Spring Equinox, spring will begin, no matter what shadows the groundhog sees now. In the garden, it is the perfect time to prune trees and vines, to clean up the compost piles, and to start a few early season crops.

            Our ritual for Candlemas involves planting seeds. After dinner, I light a new beeswax candle. We haul in potting soil and the six pack trays, label them, and plant all of our tomato seeds, as well as the early crops of kale, mustard, broccoli, and leeks. This  is the first time we have had our hands in planting soil since late October, and it feels good. We water the starts carefully and I carry them into school, where they will grow under lights for the next month. The next day, I plant a few primroses and violets in pots on the front steps. For the next few weeks, I work on cleaning up messes in the yard, basement, and drawers. There’s a bag of stuff to head out to Goodwill by the door and the compost pile is huge.

            In early February, the chicken flock comes out of its winter molt, and we have eggs once more! I can make popovers, quiches, and flans, as well as savory bread puddings. Dinners are still heavy on the winter foods. There are seven or eight squashes in the larder, half a bag of onions, and almost half of the potato crop left in their crates. Cabbage, salad greens, and kales provide fresh crunch. We have beany soups for lunch every day, pasta with mushrooms and onions for dinner, and dried fruit with oatmeal in the morning. The weather can still be grim, even in pre-spring, and there’s no real desire to lighten up just yet. In fact, potato and squash gnocci sounds quite yummy!  By the end of the six weeks, the asparagus might be poking out of the ground….

            Out at Finley Wildlife refuge, the world is wet. The wetlands are all flooded and the boardwalk curves through six foot long strands of green-grey usnea. Mosses are fat on the trees, the Indian Plum is just beginning to fill out, and the oak buds are swelling softly. Geese are everywhere. Newts cross the trails from pond to pond, and the coral mushrooms, which looks like spilled rice, breaks through the soil as we walk around the Mill Hill. If the day is dry, a few bees may be buzzing around, looking for early pollen on the hazelnuts. Nothing is blooming yet, but things are clearly stirring.

            After the walk, we come home to a fire. I place blue glass plates and small marbles on the mantle to evoke water and rain, along with beeswax candles. The table runner is cream colored, with a floral pattern. We will eat soup, salad, new bread, and an eggy cream pie, or maybe chocolate pudding with canned cherries, for desert, and drink our home pressed cider. After dinner, we plant the seeds and dream of beginning again.


Chocolate Pudding

Melt 4 oz of chocolate chips in 3 cups of milk. Add 3 tablespoons of brown sugar and stir.

Whisk chocolate milk into 3 tablespoons of cornstarch, then return to pot and heat. Cook over medium heat, whisking steadily  until thick and glossy.

Pour back into the bowl, add a teaspoon of vanilla and a handful for dried cherries, cover with an old plastic bag so it does not develop a skin, and cool. Or not. It's pretty tasty warm, too.