Thursday, January 20, 2022

Wild coffee and cattail corndogs

A couple of funny memes from Backwoods Home Magazine:


Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Woodstove in a manufactured home?

Some time ago, a reader left a comment as follows: "My wife and I are thinking about retiring into a mobile home. It looks like that's what you and your husband fixed up. Are you satisfied with it? Is it sufficiently built to make a comfortable home? I thought you indicated you had a woodstove and I did not know you could put a wood stove or firebox stove inside a mobile home. Please comment. Thank you."

The following material was written mostly by Don.

Prior to moving into our current abode, we had very little experience with manufactured homes. During the transition between our old home and our current home, with got within a hair's breadth of purchasing a rather dingy (but inexpensive) 1970s single-wide installed in a mobile home park, just as a temporary place to live. The seller pulled out at the last minute so the sale never went through, but let's just say the inside looked like a 1970s single-wide.

 

However a few years ago, at our old place, we had some new neighbors who bought the property next door. They purchased a triple-wide manufactured home (they have a large family), and we watched with fascination the process of hauling in the sections and installing them. When it was completed and the neighbors toured us around, we were impressed with how bright and airy and beautiful it was. Clearly things have come a long way in the manufactured home industry, especially compared to that 1970s model.

Our current home is a hybrid, part manufactured and part stick-built (a large extension was added which we use as a living room). The original manufactured part was built in 1995, and here and there we can still glimpse some of the early d├ęcor (the back of a closet, under the bathroom sink, etc.) However over the years the home has been improved and decorated to look much nicer. Someone installed nice laminated flooring, the walls are a decent neutral beige, they remodeled the kitchen and bathrooms, and the appliances were upgraded (a mixed blessing). During this remodeling, in addition to the stick-built extension, they also added two beautiful porches facing north and east. As a result, it doesn't look like a manufactured home at all.

Since moving in, the first major indoor project was building a spacious pantry in an underutilized corner, which gave us a double bang for our buck: pantry inside…

…and a library wall outside.

The second major indoor project was installing the wood cookstove. When we moved in, our home had two heat sources: forced-air central heating, and a pellet stove. Clearly these are useless during power outages; and power outages, we've discovered, are not uncommon. A non-electric heat source was an essential improvement.

Anyway, back to the reader's original question about installing wood heat in a manufactured home. The answer is yes, it can be done – with a few provisos.

Firstly, if you want to install a woodstove in a manufactured home (or if there's one already installed), you should contact your insurance company to find out what their requirements are concerning the installation. Manufactured homes differ structurally from stick-built homes in a variety of ways, so you need to make sure everything is compliant with state and local codes.

The most common requirements are:

• The woodstove must be rated and approved for use in manufactured homes. This means the stove model has been tested and is in compliance with HUD Standard UM-84 (a metal tag will be affixed to the rear of the stove attesting to this compliance). An approved woodstove will have a separate air intake vent to the outside, to allow exterior air into the firebox during combustion. The reason for this requirement is because most manufactured homes are built fairly air-tight, and installing a woodstove without a separate air intake vent may result in carbon monoxide buildup.

• Most approved woodstoves have a built-in heat shield attached to the rear of the stove. This is probably due to the limited space in a manufactured home.

• The woodstove must be mounted to the floor in such a way that, should the home be moved at some point in the future, the stove will remain in place.

• The woodstove must be installed in a way that meets standard state and local codes (proper pipe spaces, pipe types, distance from combustible materials, Class-A pipe through the ceiling and roof, non-combustible heart pad, etc.).

It's worth noting that some insurance companies may object to allowing a woodstove to be installed if it will be the principle or only heat-producing system. Some insurance companies may also require an inspection of both the woodstove and its installation by an agent or specialist. Some companies may even require the stove to be installed by a licensed professional. This is in addition to whatever state and local regulations which with you must comply. Don't forget to look online for specific installation information for manufactured homes.

Woodstoves in manufactured homes are not usually allowed in sleeping spaces (bedrooms). Also, because manufactured homes are usually so air-tight, it is often required (and recommended) to install a smoke and carbon monoxide detector.

We were able to skirt a few of these requirements because a significant portion of our home is the stick-built addition to the manufactured portion, and we installed the woodstove in that addition. But our insurance company still required us to provide photos of the UL tag on the rear of the stove, as well as photos (both interior and exterior) of the final installation and pipe assembly.

It helped that we have the same insurance company we used at our previous home, as well as the exact same model of woodstove we used in our old place.

We don't profess to be experts in manufactured homes by any stretch. However we've been very satisfied with the quality of construction of our nearly 30-year-old model. It's warm and well insulated, lends itself to remodeling projects (such as the pantry), and in all respects makes a cozy abode for a couple of semi-retired empty nesters.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Honey-walnut shrimp

When I went into the city last week, I picked up a luxury item: shrimp. That's because I came across a recipe I wanted to try, namely honey-walnut shrimp made so popular by Panda Express.

I love Panda Express food, but unfortunately there isn't a franchise within a hundred miles of our new home, so it's been a long long time since I had any honey-walnut shrimp. That's why this copycat recipe was so intriguing.

The shrimp I bought at Chef's Store was de-veined, shelled, and without tails. Rather surprisingly, the three-pound bag didn't cost an arm and a leg (maybe just a few fingers and toes). It's clearly not something I'll purchase very often, but it wasn't as pricey as I'd feared.

Here's the recipe:

Ingredients

1 c. water
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. walnuts
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs, beaten
1 c. cornstarch
Vegetable oil for frying
1/4 c. mayonnaise
2 tbsp. honey
2 tbsp. heavy cream
Cooked white rice, for serving
Thinly sliced green onions, for garnish

Instructions

  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine water and sugar and bring to a boil. Add walnuts and let boil for 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove walnuts and let cool on a small baking sheet.
  2. Pat shrimp dry with paper towels and season lightly with salt and pepper. Place eggs in a shallow bowl and cornstarch in another shallow bowl. Dip shrimp in eggs, then in cornstarch coating well.
  3. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 1” of oil. Add shrimp in batches and fry until golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel lined plate.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, honey, and heavy cream. Toss shrimp in sauce. Serve over rice with candied walnuts and garnish with green onions.
_____________________________

I decided to double the recipe, and (ahem) increase the amount of walnuts by a bit since I love walnuts.

As it turns out, that was a mistake. As much as I love walnuts, this dish shouldn't be overwhelmed by them. Next time I'll scale the nuts way back.

Following the directions, I let the shrimp defrost and drain, then patted it dry with towels.

I chopped up the nuts a bit...

...then boiled them in sugar-water for a couple minutes.

I scooped the nuts out of the sugar water and laid them on a sheet.

Next up, the coating for the shrimp. This consists of beaten eggs in one bowl, and cornstarch in another.

First I added a bit of salt and pepper to the shrimp...

...then dumped the shrimp into the eggs and mixed to coat them well.

Then I dumped all of that into the cornstarch bowl. This may not be the scientifically precise way to do things in the culinary world, but what I can say, I'm a lazy cook.

I made sure everything was stirred and thoroughly coated.

Meanwhile I heated some olive oil in a pot. I seldom fry anything, so this step had me the most worried because I wasn't sure how hot the oil should be before adding the shrimp. I guess frying is fairly forgiving, because I gently lowered the shrimp (about half at a time) into the pot, and it went fine.

I did have to break up the shrimp as it fried, since it wanted to clump together with the cornstarch, but that was no big deal.

While the shrimp was frying, I mixed up the sauce (mayonnaise, honey, cream)...

...and stirred it.

I scooped the fried shrimp out of the oil and let it drain on paper towels.

Then it was time to mix everything together.

Okay, folks, this turned out to be fabulous.

The only mistake, as I mentioned, was adding too many walnuts. I'll definitely scale that back next time I make this dish.

Shrimp is too expensive to repeat this recipe very often, but as an occasional treat, it's wonderful!

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Friday, January 14, 2022

More on supply-chain issues

In reference to my last post on a trip to the city, a long-time reader sent an email detailing her recent shopping experience. She lives in the Silicon Valley area of California, and helps care for her elderly in-laws. Her email is posted with permission.

________________________________

I went grocery shopping for two households today. I'm terrible at taking photos, so I didn't take any.

I went to three stores and there was no broccoli in the produce department in any of them, except the pre-washed packaged florets. There was plenty of celery in the first store; it was in its own place AND in the place for the broccoli. Most of the other produce was either very low stock or missing entirely.

There were huge gaps in stocking all over the stores. The packaged meat and poultry refrigerator units were very sparsely populated, and there wasn't much more in the butcher departments. Dairy had big gaps, and the egg refrigerator units had very little in them. There were only two packages of toilet paper, the four-roll ones, at the first store. There are signs about supply chain issues in the pet supply aisle at the first store, mostly related to the kibble types.

The third store was necessary because Mom asked for bacon and hot dogs. That store was the only one that had them and the stock was definitely low. The aisles that seemed to have the most stock were the sugar cereal, junk food, soda, and liquor.  Oh, and store-brand baked goods. That was at Safeway. Of the other two stores, one had plenty of junk food, the other had plenty of liquor (they have an exceptional wine and beer section). One of my friends is making a trip to the local Costco soon. I'll ask her for a report.

I have noticed over the last few months that the butcher departments at all these stores are shrinking, and the produce departments suddenly have lots of room to move around. The stores appear to be trying to hide the problem with rearranging and removing gondolas/bins/etc., and fronting all the stock regularly. Questions about product availability are met with a blank look and mumbled answers about deliveries. Some customers are starting to get a bit vocal about their displeasure. Prices are going up by leaps and bounds, but most people appear to be more concerned about availability than price (a Silicon Valley thing?).

Mom said that my normally clueless sister-in-law has actually noticed and is quite frightened.

We're definitely living in "interesting times"! God is sovereign, however.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Trip to the city

I did something yesterday I haven't done in three months: I took a shopping trip to the city. Seriously, I haven't been there since October 11.

I concentrated on the big box stores, since that's the only reason to go into a city anymore. My stops were: Staples, Home Depot, JoAnn's Fabrics, Cash'n'Carry (now called Chef's Store), Costco, and Winco. Aside from our purchases, however, I also wanted to gauge how full the shelves are since I keep hearing dire news stories about supply-chain shortages.

I had very little to get at Staples and Home Depot (a floor mat for under my desk and another step stool, respectively). I also had just one purchase at JoAnn's: some gnarly elastic to use as earthquake strapping for our spice rack in the pantry. While the lady at JoAnn's was measuring out the elastic, I asked if they were having trouble getting things. She gave a rueful chuckle and gestured toward an enormous wheeled cart stuffed with, I'm guessing, 200 bolts of fabric (including Christmas-themed prints).

"See that?" she said. "That was supposed to arrive two months ago. We just got it yesterday."

"Stuck offshore, was it?" I asked, and she said it was.

Chef's Store is probably my favorite place to shop. It's a restaurant-supply store and simply the best place to purchase bulk bags of flour or beans. I did not see many obvious holes in their inventory, with very select exceptions.

They even had plenty of frozen potatoes. We don't buy these, but I'd heard they're in short supply for many restaurants.

I noticed a few holes in the meats, but honestly not many.

I did ask about the availability of a 40-lb. box of frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts, since I had it in mind to can up some additional chicken. The fellow shook his head and said they have it in stock, but I wouldn't like the price.

"How much?" I asked.

"$110," he replied, himself scandalized. "It dropped to $80 for a while, then went up to $110."

Granted the last time I bought a 40-lb. box of chicken breasts was nine years ago, and it was on sale for $60. Nonetheless, I didn't buy any.

While checking out, I asked about their supply chain. Two of the men operating the cash registers joined in. "Horrible," they said. Apparently they're only getting in fifty percent of what they order. For this reason, I was pleased to get nearly everything I was looking for.

Costco, my next stop, was another story. The shelves all seemed full, including produce and meat, but something seemed amiss. I finally realized what it was while picking up some dog food: all the upper tiers of massive shelving were bare. And I mean bare.

I asked a passing Costco employee what was up with that. Apparently the reason was Snoqualmie Pass – the main east-west thoroughfare between Washington and North Idaho – had been snowed shut for several days, and had only just reopened. It wasn't just Snoqualmie Pass, it was every other east-west pass that had been closed due to weather, and Idaho was feeling the effect. I happened to hit Costco just as they were beginning to restock.

Interestingly, there were hardly any people in Costco. I've been there at times when it's wildly crowded. This was the opposite, even though it was mid-day on a Tuesday in decent weather. Go figure.

(Oh, and no restrictions of purchases of toilet paper. I snagged two packs.)

My last stop was Winco, which unquestionably has the best bulk-food section of any store I've seen. I was able to pick up some bulk pasta, farina (Cream of Wheat), coffee (still attractively priced), powdered milk, and red lentils.

What I couldn't find, however, was generic (Western Family brand) saltine crackers. Chef's Store didn't have any either, nor did our local grocery store.

They had Nabisco Premiums (notice how they're stacked forward to disguise the bare shelves behind), but those cost literally three times the price of the generic, and I wasn't about to pay that much. They also had plenty of generic saltines with unsalted tops, which were clearly an unpopular option. So, I didn't buy any crackers. I think I'll make them instead.

The other thing I couldn't find were strike-anywhere matches. What's up with that? For weeks we've been looking for strike-anywhere matches. Every time we go into a local grocery or hardware store, we search the shelves for strike-anywheres, and they're sold out. Winco had plenty of strike-on-box matches, but those aren't our preference.

I didn't specifically mention matches, but I did ask the checkout lady about supply chain issues in general. She made the same observations as everyone else I spoke to: aside from the passes being closed, the store is getting anywhere from half to three-quarters of what they order. In light of this, I was pleased to see the shelves seemed full (though granted I didn't hit many of the center aisles, since I tend to be a perimeter shopper).

So that was my trip to the city. What's happening in the rest of the country?

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Christmas in January

My Christmas cactus bloomed this year.

This is my only houseplant, and I'm fond of it because – in a way – it belonged to my grandmother who passed away in 1979. My aunt took the plant after my grandmother passed on, and when my parents visited my aunt many years later, my mother took some snippets of the cactus, brought them home, and potted them. She gave me one of the plants. It has bloomed without fail every Christmas since.

Last year, with all the chaos of our move right near Christmas, the cactus didn't bloom. In fact, I left it (after a thorough watering) in the sink of our rental house, essentially abandoned, when Don and I moved here to our new home. The rental house still wasn't completely emptied, and it wasn't until much later I was able to return and fetch everything out – including the cactus. I'm happy it survived, but it didn't bloom last year. (I couldn't blame it.)

But this year it bloomed. I'm taking it as a good sign. We're blooming too, in our new home.

The cactus wasn't the only one celebrating Christmas. This past weekend, Don and I celebrated Christmas by traveling to see Older Daughter at her apartment.

Before leaving, I wrapped some presents.

These were not only for Older Daughter, but also for Dallas and Susie, some beloved neighbors from our old home. We've spent every Christmas since moving to Idaho with these fine people, and it was good to continue the tradition.

These are the neighbors who lost their home last summer in a fast-moving wildfire that decimated our old neighborhood.

We engaged in some fundraising efforts to help them get back on their feet. And you, dear readers, responded with unbelievable generosity. Thanks to your prayers and help, they're recovering. They're overwintering in an apartment a few miles away from their old place, and hope to rebuild in the spring.

To say Dallas and Susie were grateful for the help is an understatement. Shortly before taking down the GoFundMe page, Susie posted the following message:

This couple has been through so much in the last few years. Dallas lost his bladder to cancer. Susie got breast cancer (thankfully caught and treated very early). They got COVID. Their house burned down. In short, it's been a rough few years for them. But the response from friends and strangers alike when the fire came through was so overwhelming that even now Dallas – a big strapping cowboy – chokes up when he talks about it.

Anyway, thankfully the weather held so we all met up at Older Daughter's apartment. She had set things up charmingly.

We brought Mr. Darcy with us, of course. It takes several hours to get to Older Daughter's apartment, and we couldn't leave him alone all day. Besides, he was absolutely giddy with excitement at seeing everyone.

We had such a fun celebration! We talked nonstop for three solid hours. Older Daughter's hospitality was wonderful – elegant yet informal. The only thing that tore us away was the nearly three-hour drive we had ahead of us.

I got a picture before we left.

We got home shortly after dark. Mr. Darcy was so worn out by the excitement of the day that he lay flat on his side for hours, sleeping it off.

If this past couple of years have done nothing else, they've illustrated how uncertain life can be. We're beyond grateful we still have the opportunity to celebrate holidays with the people we love.

(This is the commemorative "dumpster fire" ornament Older Daughter gave Don. Very apropos, I'd say.)

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Snowy days

We've had lots of snow over the last week.

We also had another 24-hour power outage. Ah, it's good to test one's preps every so often.

It always seems things are more noticeable in snow. Who looks closely at pine trees except in winter?

Lots of activity at the bird feeder, needless to say. This is a lesser goldfinch (green-back form).

Our resident herd of elk have been hanging around too.

Snow also brings out all the neighborhood men, who pit their machinery against the forces of nature. Some have back blades, some have bulldozers, some have truck-mounted plows, some have road graders, some have bobcats – and all pitch in to clear a portion of the road. It's what country neighbors do.

The results are sometimes mixed (to put it charitably), but at least the road is passable.

This chunky chunk was left smack in the middle of our lower driveway.

But that's okay. Don can push it aside with the tractor next time he uses it.

One evening we had just the tiniest bit of color on the western horizon, backlighting a distant farmhouse.

The hardening snow had a slick surface.

We're in for a clear spell over the next week or so. We'll even break freezing a few times. We'll see what's left of the snow after that.