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This will just be a short post to highlight a website I found. The site is called ALHFAM, or The Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums.

Here you will not only be able to search for living history museums, colonial villages, and other types of reenation fun, but you will also find ways to sign up for hands-on training, forums on specialized topics, conference sites and dates, and employment opportunities.

I don’t know about you, but my family really enjoys visiting places based in past times. The food, the gardens, the lifestyle, and the opportunity to teach our children a bit of our historic past is priceless. It’s not too late in the season to visit one, as some are still holding harvest festivals or teaching skills like the use of woodstoves for heat. If your family has an open weekend, why not fill it with some inexpensive, educational fun at a local living history museum?

I should have wrote this about a week ago, but I kept putting it off. Last Thursday our driveway was put in by a very amiable fellow named Rob. He worked very fast, and gave us a pretty good deal compared to other companies in the area. And he did it all alone, which meant there was very little chance of miscommunication. He double checked all the lines with us before starting on Wednesday, and by the next afternoon he called to say we could meet him to inspect his work.

Tear shaped roundabout with the house site being off to the right side of the picture.

Facing the house site. The maple on the left might be gorgeous, but it's rotted through so far that one section has fallen on its own. It will come down next.

Going down and around the hill toward the road. No more ruts and stumps chewing up the bottom of our vehicles!

Where the driveway meets the road. We'll go back next spring and put in a split on the other side so we can have an easier angle for big trucks. We want to wait until the electric is done so we don't have to dig twice.

The final price ended up being $1850 cash. All the gravel alone costed $1300. Why so much? We moved the house site further back on the property for more privacy, then added the roundabout with an extended parking area. Everything was a minimum of 12′ wide, according to code, but the roundabout was just a bit wider so that larger trucks can make it around without going over the side. We plan on putting the well and pump centered in the pointy end of the teardrop shaped center section. A mulberry tree will go in the middle of the round section, around 25-30 feet away from the well. Yes, it’s far enough – I checked. Opposite the pointy end of the teardrop is a flat wall perpendicular to the house site and across the driveway. This is where our future woodshop will reside.

We still have some work to do to finish the driveway up on our own. We’ll head out tomorrow (weather permitting) to begin the process of lugging rocks from the multiple piles on the property to the borders of the driveway to make it a bit prettier. Once that is finished, and all the misplaced gravel is raked back into the driveway, we’ll probably start making a few little piles of rocks for the raised bed gardens. I have been wracking my brain trying to figure out what would be cheap and durable enough to build a few big 3-4’x50′ beds. What’s cheaper than the thousands of big rocks piled up all over the land? Maybe if the weather holds up I can go out someday with the boys, a couple bags of mortar mix, and some buckets of water to start stacking the beds. It would be nice if we could have something to use for a garden next year. What will I use for soil, you ask? Look at this beauty…

He looks just like his Daddy, doesn't he? This, my dear readers, is what happens when you shop at WalMart too much.

It’s excellent topsoil, and there are two HUGE piles of it just sitting there. I figure mixing that with some acquired manure, straw, and leaves will make an excellent growing medium for veggies. We will still have a lot left over for when we plant the first of our orchard next spring, too. Speaking of which… all of the tree vendors are starting to post prices and available stock for next year. Look for a post on what we choose soon!

So I know there are some people out there who are just dying to know what our house will look like. Well, I can now sort of answer that burning curiosity. Here it is – the plan that we are still working on. (And when I say we, I mean my dutiful husband who has been spending hours and hours tooling around on Google Sketch Up to draw up exact, detailed plans to satisfy the inspector and zoning commission. Love you, honey!)

The framework of the house.

We are building on what is known as a post and pier foundation. This is mainly because building on a crawlspace just eeks me out, and building on a basement is too expensive for us at this time. Paying as we go and doing the work ourselves means we will be cutting many of the corners that contractors, banks, and inspectors would like to claim are necessary… like indoor plumbing.

*GASP* Yes. I said it. We will be living without indoor plumbing. Big whoop. Half the world over lives this way, and most of them don’t have the access to clean well water that we will. I’m not worried. After talking with many others who have lived this way and reassurances from our well guy that our well won’t freeze during the winter no matter how often we use it… we are comforted. Yes, it’ll be tough, but we’ll make it.

Anyway, onto the house plan. As you can see, it will be a 1.5 story structure. There are three bedrooms, one bathroom (with space for an additional one should we require it in the future), a large pantry/utility room, a closet for a future washer/dryer combo, a full staircase, and an open room containing the kitchen/dining/living area. There will be windows aplenty, two entry/exit doors, a woodstove for heating and cooking (initially), and plenty of closet space for storage. The view you see in the framework picture above is of the long south-facing wall. On the left is the dining nook, followed by the kitchen, utility room, and master bedroom. The bathroom is just behind the stairs in the northeast corner. The boys’ bedrooms are upstairs, across from the open area that could serve as a study or future bathroom.

A flattened version of the above house, showing the main floor plan.

All in all, the plan is 20’x40′, with the upstairs adding on another ~300 square feet. Our 600 square foot house has blossomed, but still retains the feel of the small cabin it started as. We are confident that the price won’t be too different from our original plans, either, as we aren’t really adding on a whole lot of new material. Regardless, we aren’t footing the whole bill at once. Instead, we are paying as we go. This means that we will only do as much as we can afford at any given time. If all we can afford to start with is the shell of the house, basic lighting and electricity, a woodstove for heating and cooking, and self-serve water/waste… we’re up for it. How many people can say they live in a house that is completely paid for before they even hit the age of 30?  *raises hand*

If you want to know anything else about the plans, don’t hesitate to ask! My husband will be posting updates on all of this to a Google documents file he started, as well as to Country Plans. Actually I’m not sure if he’s started posting on Country Plans yet, but it’s still worth a click if you want to see some houses similar to ours that have been or are in the process of being built. Yay for do-it-yourself!

No, I’m not talking about what women wear to cover their delicate parts. I’m talking about the quintessential Yooper food. It’s a pastry made by filling a circle of uncooked dough with meats and various vegetables. The dough is folded over the meat to create a semicircle, then crimped close to seal the filling inside. My dad was born and raised in the UP, and after a little over a decade of living in other places he has returned to live there again. With that kind of past, it’s no wonder the pasty has always had a place in our family’s menus.

My parents favor a simple pasty – venison, sausage, carrots, potatoes, rutabegas, garlic, and onions. While I will never turn down this plain fare, I have been experimenting with different fillings. My latest experiment has been deemed a tremendous success by my little family. Even the picky 4 year old ate an entire one… without ketchup! Here is how I made them, and am still making them. I had so many veggies to use up that I’ll probably be making pasties long into the night tonight. They are excellent from the freezer, and the perfect meal for my husband to take to work since he can eat them without a fork.

First, collect some vegetables. Any vegetables. (Please note that a tomato, pepper, ect is a fruit… not a veg.) For this batch I used 4 small turnips, 2 parsnips, 1 rutabega, 1 pound of multi-colored fingerling potatoes, 2 large onions, 2 heads of garlic, 6 big carrots, a slice of a purple cabbage, and whatever seasonings I found in my cupboard that smelled good. Is that strange? I never follow a recipe or measurements for seasoning. I think over the years I have just learned what to use by smelling spices, adding them, then doing taste tests. I use A LOT of spices in my cooking. If you aren’t familiar with spices, maybe you could toss in some salt, pepper, and a tablespoon or two of some premixed concoction you buy at the store. Or just salt and pepper. Whatever you like.

I feel like such an artist when I put together so many colors in a dish!

Set the veggies aside and brown up some meat now. Any meat. Combine different meats if you want to. My parents won’t make pasties unless they have venison to use, but I’m not so fussy. For this batch I used ground beef and a little Italian sausage. You could use steak chunks, chicken, rabbit, pork, squirrel… go wild with it! Some people just toss the meat in with the veggies raw and cook it all in the oven, but I’m a bit paranoid about the meat cooking all the way so I brown it before on the stovetop. I won’t tell you which way is better or healthier because I’m certainly not an expert. Use your own discretion with the meat.

Make sure you get small enough chunks to be easily manageable. Too big, and your pasty might be hard to crimp.

You’ll notice a lack of glistening on my meat. I tossed in a bit of flour to soak up the excess grease. When it cooks and the veggies start releasing some of their juices, it makes just a bit of gravy inside that is so flavorful. If you are counting calories, you might want to drain and rinse your meat.

With the meat and veg all prepared and waiting for a new home, I then preheated the oven to 350 degrees F and started making the pastry dough. This is where I do stick to measurements… sort of. Okay, so I just eyeball it… but hey! At least I use the ingredients it says to. Sometimes.

This dough recipe is THE BEST pasty dough out there, folks. I know, I know. Everyone says that about theirs. But I’ll do a taste test challenge with anyone to fight this point, because I really like this dough. It’s from Betty Crocker, and it’s the one that my parents have always used. Along with perfect flakiness and ease of rolling out, this dough is also so simple that any beginning home chef will be able to conquer it.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup shortening (I used half butter, half lard)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1  1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup cold water
In a bowl, mix the flour and shortening with a fork or pastry mixer until the shortening is in pea-sized chunks throughout the flour. Then toss the rest of the ingredients in and mix it with a sturdy spoon. Turn the dough chunks out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to catch all those loose bits. If the dough is too dry, add a bit more water. If too wet, add a bit more flour. You want dough that isn’t so sticky that you can’t roll it out, but isn’t so flaky that it won’t stick to itself. Roll the dough into 2-3″ balls and set aside. Take one ball at a time and roll it out on a lightly floured surface until you have the shape you prefer. I generally use an oblong shape then fold it in half hamburger-style (not hotdog-style). Put a scoop of veg and a bit of the meat  in the center of the dough, then add a small pat of butter on top. Without the butter, it will turn out a bit too dry for my tastes. Fold the dough in half and crimp the edges together however you please. If the edges won’t stick to each other, dab on some water with your fingertip and press together.
I line them up several to a sheet and bake them for 45 minutes. And since I’ve done such a big batch this time around, I’ll be up until the wee hours cursing my horde of vegetables. The dough recipe stated above is only enough for 6-8 medium sized pasties. I estimate I’ll go through six or more batches of dough tonight with that huge bowl full of veg.

Cut some slits in the top if you don't want your pasties bursting from the pressure. Nothing fancy necessary - just a slit or two.

I hope you decide to try this recipe someday. It really is a great way to use up old vegetables and make meals ahead of time. What’s easier than tossing one of these into the microwave or oven to reheat? Tradition dictates that we eat them plain, unadorned, but I can’t seem to even taste one without smothering it in ketchup first. I’ve seen some people eat them bathing in gravy, too. Any way you eat it, it’s a healthy, homemade meal. Enjoy!

October 2011

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