Things are slowing down as the house is ready for winter and almost everything is gone from the old place. A couple more trips this weekend and I hope we’ll be done moving. We haven’t done much unpacking, but there will be plenty of time for that now that it’s starting to get cold.
After the sunrise this morning I took Nika out on one of the trails on the other side of the road from our driveway. There’s a trail that goes along the road, and off that is a trail that goes mostly east up over the ridge, which is where I took Nika. It’s about ¾ of a mile to where the trail intersects what looks like it might be a road, but since I didn’t know where I was, I turned around and came back. You can sort of see what the environment looks like from the photo on the right. The forest was dark and the sky was lit with the sunrise, so it was hard to get a good photo.
The other photo shows the toilet repair I did earlier today. The toilet didn’t flush “all the way,” even when there wasn’t anything but liquid in the bowl. I was worried that it was installed incorrectly, but the plumber that came to charge our glycol lines said it was just scale inside the toilet. He suggested getting some hydrochloric acid and letting it dissolve the scale by running it through the toilet. But since we’ve got our own sewage treatment plant that needs to be treated gently (the instruction manual says we need to treat it like a pet, since it's a living system), I pulled the toilet out of the house and ran acid through it from the top tank into the bowl. I’m glad I did it outside, since the reaction released some really nasty smelling (and probably poisonous) gases. The photo is what happened when I neutralized the acid with a couple boxes of baking soda. The acid came with a pH testing kit to verify the acid was neutralized before disposing of the solution.
After all that, I wiped it down, installed a new wax ring, and screwed the toilet back in place. Turns out the plumber was exactly right: now it flushes like a toilet should.
I also made some time to try out a recipe from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads. I finished reading the book last night and prepared the soaker and biga for the basic whole wheat sandwich loaf. Reinhart calls his new baking method a delayed fermentation, “epoxy” method where a large percentage of the dough is prepared in advance. Half of it is a traditional pre-ferment, with either a small amount of yeast added, or is a sourdough; and the other half is a soaker or mash that sits overnight, allowing enzymes to develop flavor and enhance the dough structure and fuel for fermentation. On baking day, you mix the two blobs of dough with the remaining flour, yeast and other ingredients, knead and bake it. Most of the gluten and flavors are developed overnight, so even though the entire process takes more than one day, it involves less effort on each day.
It’s just out of the oven now. Tomorrow, when the bread has cooled, I’ll have a report on how it turned out, but it rose nicely, and I got enough oven spring that the loaf is quite round in cross section.
It was another cold day this morning, and since we moved all the split firewood from our old house yesterday, we decided to make a fire in our wood burning cookstove. We got the replacement firebox parts earlier in the week, and they slid right into place. We’ve got about a cord stacked in the woodshed, and another cord of spruce that’s been cut, but not split yet. Hopefully the split wood will last long enough to allow the spruce to dry once I’ve chopped it. With everything else going on, I haven’t had any opportunity to go logging, or even deal with the wood I got earlier in the spring.
The Stanley fired right up, and within about fifteen minutes the top cook surfaces ranged from 700°F above the firebox, to 200°F on the cooking plates on the right side of the stove. The oven peaked at 180°F after 45 minutes, but by then the house was already warm and I’d burned all the wood I brought into the house, so I didn’t let it go any longer. I’m not exactly sure how to use the flue controls on the stove to regulate the cooktop and oven temperatures, but it was easy to get the fire started, and then cinched down to burn slowly.
Since today was pancakes and bacon day, and the cookstove was already warm, I tried cooking the bacon on the wood stove. Like the electric stove six months ago, and our new gas stove last week, the wood burning stove heated the pan evenly and the bacon came out perfectly. The cooktop could have been hotter and the bacon would have browned a bit more than it did, but for my first attempt at renewable energy cooking, I’ll mark this one down as a complete success.
Now back to moving. Sigh.
Many months ago we planted a vegetable garden at our old house. We got a truckload of good soil, rented a rototiller and hoped for a great growing season. All those plans fell apart when we bought our new house, started packing and moving everything. Keeping the garden watered and properly fertilized wasn’t very high on our list of things to do, so the plants were all left to their own devices.
The Weather Service was predicting a hard frost over the Interior on Friday night (and it came—it was 16°F at our new house this morning and all the ponds in our driveway are frozen), so I harvested all the above-ground produce on Thursday night. The photo on the right shows the entire output from six broccoli and six cauliflower plants. They were tasty, especially the cauliflower, but not exactly the quantity I was hoping for. I also harvested two six-inch zucchinis (also far below expected production) and the cabbage. All ten cabbage plants produced some reasonably sized cabbage (bigger than a softball, smaller than a bowling ball), so I’ll have enough for a couple gallons of sauerkraut. We’ll probably harvest the potatoes in a few days. I don’t expect to find many large baking potatoes (we grew Russets this year), but we’ll probably have enough for making hash browns on Saturday mornings.
The other photo shows Piper on her new bed. We didn’t make this one, but it was “assembled in USA” and is composed of a minimum 90% postconsumer recycled plastic. I’m not a big fan of plastic products, but creating a market for recycling the stuff is certainly better than letting it all go into the landfills and waterways. And Piper really seems to like it, which is the most important thing!
Yesterday I had a chance to actually cook something on our new stove. We got it on Wednesday, moved it into the house on Thursday, converted it to propane and hooked it up on Friday, but we’ve been so busy with moving and taking care of Ivan that we hadn’t had a chance to do anything except boil water on it. I made pancakes and bacon. The stove has a large oval shaped central burner with a griddle that fits over the top of it, but I used our cast-iron griddle on the left two burners instead. Like the electric range we bought six months ago, the new stove is able to heat my biggest cast-iron pan from edge to edge and cooked a full pan of bacon evenly with a minimum of rotating.
The pancakes weren’t as good because I need to learn the correct burner settings again. I'd just gotten used to the electric, but I'm already enjoying the gas stove. It's nice even heat, it's really easy to manipulate the burner settings because you can actually see the flame. This particular stove has a simmer burner in addition to the central griddle. I tried the simmer burner last night, but I think it’s set a bit to high at the moment.
We debated getting a dual-fuel range but Consumer Reports tested electric and gas ranges in July and didn't find any differences in evenness or temperature control between the two, and the dual-fuel models we saw were all more than twice as expensive as a single fuel range. I bake a lot of bread, so I think the moisture produced during propane combustion might actually be a good thing for the crust. I'm hoping to have a bit of time during the week to try out a recipe from my new bread book.
Soon we should also receive the firebox parts for our wood-burning cook stove. Last weekend I managed to get all the melted, warped, and cracked pieces (!) of cast-iron out of the firebox, and called Lehman's. They sell the stove we have, and also sell parts for it. Shipping all that cast iron from Ohio to Alaska is going to cost more than $100. But it'll be worth it. It's been cold and rainy all weekend and I wished I could have fired up the wood stove. Gotta move some firewood from the old house.
On the subject of temperatures, we’ve already noticed that it’s much colder at our place than in the rest of town, and certainly by comparison to our old house in the hills. I’ve got a little plot on the sidebar (labelled ‘Temperature anomaly’) that shows the difference between the morning temperature at our house, and an average of the temperature readings from the Fairbanks area. Each blue bar represents a single day’s observation going back two weeks and the orange lines show the average anomaly for each week. Thus far, it appears that we’re about 10 degrees below the Fairbanks average when it’s clear, and pretty close to average when it’s cloudy.
We're still moving stuff from the old house to the new one, but are nearing the end of that process. Unpacking has now overtaken packing so the house is starting to look more like a place that people live, rather than an empty storage unit. We’ve got the first floor set up much the way the previous owners had it set up with a little entry way / pantry next to the door, a “dining room” in front of the big south window, the entertainment center next to the sliding glass doors, and a couch on the opposite wall (formerly known as the “red wall”.) Right now we’re using a bookshelf as shelves for the pantry, and we haven’t figured out what to do with the area to the right of the couch (where there was a little office), but at least it’s functional. I think some sort of storage bench next to the door, a storage unit under the window, and a better pantry unit will help organize things quite a bit before the complexities (coats, boots, snow, extreme cold, etc.) of winter arrive.
Most of the stuff that had been in the library / junk room in our old house, as well as the stuff from the office (we had a lot of rooms in the old house…) have been shoved into the third room on the second floor of our new house. This is supposed to become an office in the near future, but at the moment it’s looking a lot more like a new take on the “junk room” concept. The red cabin, which is absorbing everything from the garage also has this appearance. Until we can get a handle on unpacking some of the boxes, both areas are going to be pretty hard to navigate.
Still, it’s all progress. I’m sure it’ll be awhile before it really feels like home, but having a bunch of our normal stuff close by and out in similar places certainly helps.
Our cat Ivan died of kidney failure today. We’d known for some time that it was coming, but he had been managing pretty well with subcutaneous fluids and a restricted diet.
I got Ivan and Alexi (who died a little over three years ago) at the Portland Animal Shelter in 1993, and they traveled up to Alaska with me in the Volaré. He was a very playful cat and had learned to play fetch. He’d bat a toy around on the floor for a little while, bring it back while meowing, and then flop next to the toy until someone got up to throw it for him. As he got older he became very affectionate, and whenever we were home he’d curl up on our legs. At night before bed, and in the morning when my alarm went off (sometimes before it went off!), he’d come up on the bed, snuggle in close to my neck and purr and knead. It’s going to be hard to get to sleep tonight without him coming up to say good night.
Good night little buddy. We’ll miss you.