A Birthday Tradition Revisited

In this day and age, it seems that traditions are receiving a bad press.  Many traditions provide a sense of comfort and stability in a world that is filled with chaos. The tradition I started for my wife’s birthday is now over a decade old, and it is a tradition that is now rooted in our family.  Hopefully, this is a tradition our son will carry with him into his marriage, and it will become generational.  What traditions have you started in your family? What have you been doing for years?  What stability have you brought to you and your family’s lives through your traditions?

The following video… I filmed last year, but I was finally able to edit it the way I envisioned these past few weeks.  I hope you enjoy our continued tradition to celebrate the most important person in our household.  After the video, I included the first post I made about this birthday tradition 3 years ago.  Enjoy the flashback.

For the past eight or so years, I started a tradition for my wife’s birthday.  Before this epiphany, I would ask my wife what she would like for her birthday cake?  I would then, like most husbands, go hunt down the desired cake and purchase it from a bakery or sometimes an ice cream parlor.  One year my wife said, she didn’t feel like having a cake or anything.  She was reading about how unhealthy processed cakes were due to all the additives and processed ingredients.  I don’t blame her; I am not a fan of food coloring in my food either.  But, I didn’t have a problem;  she always made my cake from scratch.

My wife knew I was not a good baker, but I felt the gauntlet had been cast down, the challenge had been made, and I needed to step up as a husband and respond in the only dignified way I could and that was to don an apron and start a bake’n. Thus, a new tradition was born.

It is a Woman's World... I love this cook book from 1939.

It is a Woman’s World… I love this cook book from 1939.

I found a book with the most natural ingredients I could find at a Robert’s Bookshop selling used books in Lincoln City, Oregon.  The cook book is pre-WWII, and I figured the war was a definite trigger for over processed foods in our diet as the military rations found commercial labels and entered our grocery stores soon after.

I began searching through the cake recipes and I tried several for my wife over the years.  The first cake I made  was almost a brick, and from then on I got much better.  The cakes from this cook book are not fluffy, light cakes.  They are dense, rich, thick cakes that stick to the roof of your mouth and to your ribs.  They truly are good.  However, three years ago I made Krista the Zesty, Orange Cake, and now I am not allowed to bake a different type of cake or change recipes.  This is the birthday cake that has won my wife’s heart, and so  I have dedicated the past few years to perfecting the recipe and the cake’s presentation.

Icing, filling, whatever it is; it's all good... Here is the page I reference for the orange icing. It leaves a lot of room for interpretation that only a true baker would know. I left the other two recipes in the shot since Prune filling sounds so interesting.

Icing, filling, whatever it is; it’s all good… Here is the page I reference for the orange icing. It leaves a lot of room for interpretation that only a true baker would know. I left the other two recipes in the shot since Prune filling sounds so interesting.

When it rains, it pours… The week of my wife’s birthday this year; I had meetings scheduled every night after school, the snow plow truck broke down, and the propane stove and oven quit working.  At least the wood cook stove, was available to make the cake without any problems.  In fact, I prefer the wood cook stove to the propane one when baking.

The icing on the cake... I usually create the icing for the cake the night before I make the cake so it has time to chill.

The icing on the cake… I usually create the icing for the cake the night before I make the cake, so it has time to chill.

I usually make Krista’s zesty, orange cake in stages.  On the eve before making the cake, I make the orange icing.  After I grated the peel for the orange flavor, I squeeze the fresh orange for the half cup of orange juice needed.  I also grate a lemon for the icing and add the juice of the freshly squeezed lemon for a little more zing.  Once the icing is cooked and thickened, I set it out to cool before placing it in the fridge overnight.

The apprentice... My son and apprentice is adding his eggs to the cake batter and doing a fine job. He has been a great help in the creation of this birthday cake.

The apprentice… My son and apprentice is adding his eggs to the cake batter and doing a fine job. He has been a great help in the creation of this birthday cake.

The next day,  which was luckily the weekend, I began making Krista’s cake.  This year I had help from my son.  He did an excellent job cracking the eggs and adding the ingredients to the mixer to make the cake batter.  He also learned how to juice the oranges and lemon for the batter as well.

In this next shot is our Juice King, which is our citrus juice squeezer.  Krista found it at an antique sale, and it has worked great ever since we brought it home.  I require the use the juicer three different times.  Once for the icing, then for the cake batter, and last for the frosting.

Roll up your sleeves and squeeze... Here we work together to squeeze the 1/2 cup of orange juice required for the recipe.

Roll up your sleeves and squeeze… Here we work together to squeeze the 1/2 cup of orange juice required for the recipe.

When the batter is ready for the cake pans, I have the wood cook stove revving up to cooking temperature.  The key is to not overheat the oven because waiting for it to cool is time consuming.  I close the flue and open the oven vent.  I also open up the ash tray drawer below the fire box and when it approaches the 350 degrees required, I shut everything down except the oven vent.  I tend the firebox making sure it has enough fuel to cover the baking time of 25 – 35 minutes.  Once I have the fuel and the temperature needed, I place the cake pans into the oven on the same rack.  The oven temperature was so even and the cook time so short, I didn’t need to re-position the cake pans once they were in the oven.

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man... I could not help but to feel rush a little by the hungry eyes behind me and the next line, "Bake me a cake as fast as you can."

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man… I could not help but to feel rushed a little by the hungry eyes behind me and the next line, “Bake me a cake as fast as you can.”

The finished product this year was great, except I hate to waste anything, so I added way to much orange icing to the center between the layers of the cake.  I must remember when it comes to presentation, less is more.  However, when it comes to flavor and taste, I still tend to get carried away and put as much frosting and icing on the cake beyond surface allowance.  Good thing I’m not an architect.

Almost finished... All that is left is to add the orange icing and candles on top.

Almost finished… All that is left is to add the orange icing and candles on top.  The toothpicks held the top layer in place to add the frosting.  I placed way too much icing in between the 2 layers, but it was worth it.

Here is Krista’s beautiful, zesty, orange, double layer cake made with orange, lemon zest icing between the layers and drizzled on top of the orange and vanilla butter cream frosting.  Now, my wife has to wait another 366 days for her birthday cake; it’s a leap year.  Unless, our son or I request it as well.



Off Grid electricity is NOT free.

Out with the old… The T-105’s are being retired.

I believe I am guilty of promoting free energy on the off grid homestead, and during the summer months it appears that way.  However, during the winter months cloudy skies make solar energy creation improbable, and it’s the battery bank that keeps the home’s electricity going from day to day.  When the fog and inversion continues throughout the week, a 5 gallon jug of fuel is added to the generator. The generator is fired up to produce the home’s power and to fill the battery bank for a few more days.

Winter is the time of the year when an off grid home realizes they are not living “free”.  Perhaps a nice sunny equatorial home would provide the energy the home needs and less reliance on a large battery bank.  But even then, a home close to the equator has a constant 12 hours day and night. In which the daylight begins at 6 and ends at 6 in the evening.  If only we lived on the equator… but I really like the 4 seasons, so that’s out for now.

If you are thinking about going off grid, depending on where you live and what your winter is like as far as darkness and climate, you will want to size your battery bank accordingly.  Our new bank, if we conserve, can get us about 4 days, without direct sunlight.  We have added so many new systems that require more power and we added to our family another person, so power usage has naturally increased.  More lights are on, our fridge runs more often, and the phantom load of the Internet and the propane tankless water heater begin to add up over a few hours.  If I remember, like I just did, I shut them off.

As seen in the video,  I crunched the numbers and our new battery bank (basic electric bill) is estimated at $25.00 a month over a 10 year period.  That’s not bad, but that doesn’t include the generator maintenance or the fuel for it.  A 5 gallon jug is required to charge the battery bank from 50% back up to 100% and to equalize them.  Without equalizing, it’s about 4 gallons of fuel needed.  I am keeping tabs on our generator usage this year with the new bank and tractor generator; it will be nice to be able to prepare a constant monthly budget by spreading the winter expenditures year round.

Off grid electricity is NOT free!

If my wife and I lived on the grid in this area and had solar panels that covered our electrical usage, the power company would still charge us a $25.00 minimum monthly hook up fee.  That doesn’t seem fair, but with many people trying to save money with increasing electrical bills the power companies do not want people wiggling out from their profit margins, plus someone has to pay for all those linemen who repair the down wires after a devastating storm.  Either way off grid or on, you will have to pay someone for your electricity.  As electricity bills increase, so does the price of batteries. The T-105’s I first bought were $155 each in 2011; this year they are $180 a piece.

If you are thinking about supplementing your on grid home or building an off grid power system, now is the time to start because prices are always going up.

Bucking Challenge: Electric v. Gas

I have wanted an electric chainsaw for a few years now, and when I was asked by my wife and son what I wanted for Father’s Day, I went with the Oregon CS1500.  The Oregon electric plugin chainsaw was one of the few chainsaws left out there that doesn’t use batteries.  I did not want a battery-operated chainsaw because who wants to wait an hour to recharge to work 20 minutes then wait another hour to recharge for another 20 minutes of work.  With the plugin, I can plug directly into my solar powered home and begin bucking wood for free, minus the need for bar oil.

In the video, I created a split screen and put myself side by side to make it appear I was racing myself in the challenge.  The Stihl was not warmed up, and had a slow start.  The Oregon electric just started and ran when I pulled the on trigger; however, it did not have the power the Stihl had.

I believe the electric chainsaw is a great option during the summer months when the solar panels create a lot of extra power.  Not having to buy gas or perform engine maintenance also helps with the decision to have one.  When looking at the cost, the MS 311 Stihl is $499.00 while the Oregon CS1500 was advertised at $99.00.  I will keep my Stihl for the deep forest work of collecting of firewood, but I will try and use my lighter Oregon electric whenever I can.

Will I drag the electric chainsaw into the forest connected to my tractor’s PTO generator?  I have thought about giving it a run just to see how it would perform, but the idea of hauling all the video equipment out to film it, doesn’t seem appealing when I want to just get the work done.  “The Bucking Challenge” video I created took an entire Saturday morning and afternoon to film and about another 10 hours of editing.

Cistern Pump Quick Change

When the pump failed, I knew I had to change it before I left for work.  If I left the house before changing the cistern pump, my family would be without water for the day.  Unless they hand bucketed it from the cistern.  This was an early morning emergency that turned out well considering.

Behind the Scenes: We have been very busy lately, and I can honestly say I am really needing a break.  Jury duty has been aloof as my number was missed by 6 spots this week.  However, the last week in March, I am sure to be called up unless no trial is scheduled.  My son’s basketball season has come to a close and we now have our Saturdays back, but from the exhaustive week and fighting a cold, this Saturday will most likely be a day to relax and regroup.

Our business has slowed down, and we are retooling and getting geared up for the show/late spring and summer season.  YouTube an avenue/platform we are trying to use to help create some business exposure has been a demoralizing task after we lost any possibility of monetizing even though we chose not to monetize in the first place.  After a little bit of research, we noticed channels that still can monetize are promoted more by YouTube suggested videos watch, which means our exposure has been stifled. Not sure what to do.  Thinking of taking a hiatus from the channel, but I hate admitting defeat.

Thanks for your participation in our blog.  Let us know some of the daunting tasks you are facing right now in the comments below.

Cleaning the Wood Cook Stove Surface

This week I am demonstrating how to clean a stainless steel wood cook stove surface.  Many of you probably do not have a wood cook stove in your homes. This still may relate to you if you are considering purchasing a wood stove to have a backup heat and cooking source.

I have created a playlist on maintenance for cleaning a wood cook stove. After the several years of owning it, I have resorted to cleaning the stove during my vacations from school.  I usually clean it once during Christmas break, and again during or near spring break in which it is the last burn for the season. As far as cleaning the surface, I have only cleaned it once in the 6 years we have owned it. I probably would have gone longer if it weren’t for requests asking for a demonstration from YouTube.

I can honestly say I love having a wood cook stove.  The cleaning of it is not really that much effort when you consider the stove does not consume electricity or gas to heat the home, cook the food, or heat the water.  If it wasn’t for its versatility in our home during the winter, I would probably not use it much because of the need to gather firewood.  Gathering firewood is a chore.

We hope you enjoy the video.  We are making changes to our YouTube channel to accept our permanent demonetization and we’ll keep you posted on it soon.

Tractor + Generator = Power

Before we even bought our land and were planning our off grid homestead, we wanted a diesel generator as our backup power system for those endless cloudy days.  Why? Because, the cost of dyed diesel is cheaper, and, most importantly, I don’t have to worry about the fuel going bad after a few months of it sitting in storage.  With diesel, I don’t have to add extra expensive fuel additives to preserve the gas for a year.  Yes, I am putting more wear and tear on my tractor, but I am also running it in the winter and not letting it sit for long periods of time doing nothing, so either case I am probably even on future tractor maintenance.

Our previous RIGID generator is still with us and still without a pull rope assembly and can be used if needed in a pinch. However, I had grown tired of the gas generator’s fussiness with the gasoline industry’s ever changing recipe and their self-destructive design to make people even more dependent on them each month to purchase fresh fuel or buy additives.  It seems that diesel has been the one line of fuel that has not been messed with as much as the others.  It is perhaps, the industry’s one nice gesture to the people who are so dependent upon them.

We have finally purchased our “expensive” diesel generator. But, it wasn’t that expensive in combination with the tractor.  We already own the tractor, so adding the Winco 15kW PTO generator was half the cost of a Honda 5.5 – 7 kW gas generator.  The great news, as well, is no more pull starting. Even if the RIGID was only 4 pulls to start.  It’s brutal when the back is already thrown out from some other incident and I still had to go and pull start a generator.  Did I mentioned the price difference in our area for dyed diesel compared to non-ethanol high octane fuel necessary for small engines.  The price difference in our area is 90 cents a gallon.  At this price, the difference for a 5 gallon fuel tank is about $4.50 savings per gas can we fill.  That adds up when all the calculations are done between how many times on average the generator needs to run during the cloudy winter season.

If you own a tractor and have the horse power, a Winco tractor generator would be an excellent backup in case of a storm or power outage.  The fuel would be the same you use for your tractor and can be stored indefinitely (20 years).

This post was not sponsored by Winco generators or Kioti tractors.  It is, however, sponsored by our off grid homestead business Pauper’s Candle Company. Visit today for your next candle purchase at https://paupers-candles.ecwid.com/

Flashback: Lighting the Wood Stove for the 1st time didn’t work out so well.

Flashback to six years ago when we lit our Kitchen Queen wood cook stove for the first time.  We had our challenges trying to figure it out, but now it is easy.  We moved into our place for two weeks during December of 2011 to see if we could manage the home with the extreme cold of a North Idaho winter.   We managed quite well and decided to move full-time onto the property in January.

However, that first night was a very cold night.  The home was hovering at 39 degrees Fahrenheit and by the time we went to bed, the home had warmed up to about 50 degrees.   As we laid in bed shivering, with several blankets and a down sleeping bag as a bed spread.  My wife and I huddled together for warmth and the thoughts running through my mind was, “Oh, no, I bought too small of a wood cook stove, we are going to freeze.”

Needless to say, I did not share these thoughts with my wife as she whispered, “Do you think it’s ever going to get warm?”

I said confidently, “Sure it will get warm; give it some time.”

The next morning our heads were sweating as our knees were freezing.  The heat was trapped on the ceiling and hadn’t extended to the floor yet.  By evening, the concrete floor had warmed up and the entire house was warm to a balmy 85 degrees Fahrenheit.  My wife and I opened the windows to let the outside’s single digit weather balance our home’s temperature.  My wife changed into shorts and a tank top.  I just sweated and enjoyed the warmth.

Once we began to figure out the stove, controlling the home’s temperature has become very natural to us.  Now, we know when to open and close the dampers when to stoke the fire, etc.. Living off grid has been a huge learning curve for us.  However, I would say that it has made me a more rounded person.  I have begun to develop a talent for fixing things that I would never have attempted before.  My wife has also changed quite a bit as we have become more self-sufficient in maintaining and operating our systems.