Well, hello again. Remember how I wrote a post in September and apologized for the months that had lapsed since my last post? I believe at the time we had just welcomed some adorable baby chicks to our place. Well, guess what, folks? Those baby chicks are nearly grown and on the cusp of laying their first eggs. And I’m just now returning to the blog.
I haven’t had/made time or energy for blogging–that’s the simple reality. And yet, here I am again, feeling the urge to write and to share our experiences. So thanks to those of you who continue to check in on the journey, however sporadic the updates may be.
It certainly seems like a good time to sit down at the keyboard again, because–drumroll…–we finally moved into the barn-house! Nearly a year after we moved to Virginia, and long after our many-abandoned deadlines, we have officially taken up residence. We hoped for a move in by Christmas, but slept in there for the first time on the 26th (not bad!).
A well-timed visit from our dear friends, Caitlin and Garrett, helped us in the final push to move in. We really wanted to be able to host them in our own space, and so the week leading up to Christmas (and following a trip to Montana to visit my sister-in-law–December was a whirlwind!) was filled less with wrapping presents and decorating for Christmas and more with labors to get the countertops installed, the kitchen sink plumbed, and (at least some) of that persistent construction dust cleaned up.
And we did it! We got the space live-able enough to host dear friends, and to begin to settle in ourselves. BEGIN being the key word. We’ve got lots of work ahead of us, folks. Our standards of what we wanted finished before move-in slipped dramatically. So the baseboard trim is hanging awkwardly over our heads from the loft. There’s currently a curtain in front of the bathroom door (although we just picked up an actual door at a re-store!). The wood countertops are still raw and awaiting their finish. But we’re in the space and enjoying it!
There was so much hustle and bustle to get ready for Caitlin and Garrett and make the move-in that I didn’t really digest what this move from my in-laws to the barn-house brought with it. We’re making a pretty bit life plunge, after all. I’ve of course “known” about this theoretical plunge for quite some time, but it just got real. And the realness is only going to continue.
One of the biggest shifts we’re currently digesting and adjusting to is that of cooking on a wood-fired cookstove. We’ve been really excited about this shift, and perhaps just a bit naive about what it would mean. I will admit that the transition to cooking with wood came with a bit of stress and a decent-sized learning curve. In hindsight, it was probably both a blessing and a curse that Garrett and Caitlin were with us for this orientation. So much of what the four of us enjoy together revolves around cooking and good food, and so it was hard for me when suddenly the simple task of preparing a delicious meal was not so simple. At the same time, C & G are perhaps the most encouraging and laid back people on the planet, and were quite helpful in troubleshooting some of our initial cookstove woes.
Even after just a week or so of this new part of our lives, we feel like we’ve learned a lot. There’s still lots to be learned, to be sure, but I think Tim and I are both feeling less daunted by cooking with wood. Here are some of the early (and perhaps obvious!) lessons:
- Varied and good wood is CRUCIAL. This is one of those obvious points. But we’ve been working so crazy to get the barn ready that we’ve just sort of been schlepping together our wood supply and/or depending on the generosity of friends. Thankfully, a relative of Tim’s dropped by some nice oak shortly before we moved in. This saved our butts, but we also quickly realized that, on its own, big oak chunks were not going to make us a quick or hot fire. With lots of kindling and cardboard, we managed to not take hours to cook everything, but moving forward, we definitely want to have a better mixture of wood–sizes and types–so that we can get a hot fire going quickly.
- Cook directly over the fire when possible. I think Garrett helped us figure this one out. There are two “eyes” on the stovetop, one of which can be removed to give direct access to the fire below. We are more grateful than ever for our cast-iron cookware, because it allows us to cook directly over the flame and to get things sizzling a lot more quickly than we can while the stovetop is still slowly heating up.
- Figure out cold lunches and/or have leftovers on hand. Especially when winter holds as many mild days as it seems to of late. With temps in the 50s several times over the past week, we didn’t really want to have a roaring fire in the middle of the day. But I’ve quickly realized how much of a hot-lunch family we are. While I’m not sure we’ll turn into daily lunchmeat-and-cheese eaters, I do know we’ll need to learn some new lunch habits–quickly re-heated leftovers, lentil or pasta or greens salads, maybe even the occasional cold leftover.
- Menu plan. This, too, will be a new habit. Tim and I both tend to cook with whatever is on hand or strikes our fancy in the moment. Cooking with wood demands quite a bit more foresight, at least at this stage of our wood-fired cookstove careers. We’re thinking that starting to develop more of a weekly meal plan (perhaps with the weather in mind?) may help us approach dinner with less stress, and keep the dinner-prep process from stretching on way longer than we intend.
- Experiment. I was ready to bake sourdough and was having trouble getting the oven temp to read even 300. I usually bake my bread at 425. I got so tired of waiting that I decided just to go for it and–miracle of miracles!–the bread baked just fine! We also needed to replenish our yogurt supplies, and alas had no oven light. This first go, I tried incubating the yogurt in a pot of warm water I left on the cool side of the cookstove. It worked pretty well, although I want to keep experimenting. These have been good reminders that I’ll need to experiment and be flexible with the recipes and cooking methods I’ve become accustomed to in a conventional oven.
- Get an inverter a.s.a.p. We both sort of forgot about this decision, but evidently when we invested in our self-install solar kit from Backwoods Solar, we decided to save a bit and to hold off on purchasing an inverter (converts the DC power into AC). Which is all well-and-good in theory. Our lights can operate off of DC power, as can our fridge. But without an inverter we don’t have any AC power. Which means we can’t use any AC appliances, such as an electric tea kettle. Wouldn’t have thought that was a big deal. We’ve never owned an electric tea kettle, after all. But, seriously. When it’s been a mild day and night and you let the fire die overnight and it takes FOREVER to boil water on the stove-top for coffee. Not fun. We may or may not have snuck into my in-laws house to use their electric coffeepot once or twice under such circumstances. While we are committed to using our wood fired cookstove for most things, we’re realizing there are a few appliances that will really help our mental well-being.
- Relax into the slowness. This may be the hardest one for me, thought I hate to admit it. Oh, how I liked to wax philosophical about how this shift to homesteading was a welcome slowing-down in our lives. I’m quickly coming to reckon with how much my default m.o. is one of speed and efficiency. And, believe me, I would like to get faster and more efficient at cooking on this wood stove. But I will also need to learn how to be okay with the slowing down.
That final lesson is especially hard to absorb when we’ve simply got SO MUCH to do. In the house and on the homestead, not to mention to prepare for the next market-garden season. But that’s part of the lifestyle we’ve just plunged into. There will be aspects that will force the slowing down. The biggest question, I suppose, is whether we can learn to relish the new pace.