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Monthly Archives: April 2014

Just another day in paradise

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Quiche, white sourdough cheesy bread with sesame seeds, and a glass of passion fruit juice (bought; shameful, I know – anyone have some spare?), with a view of South-East St Croix.

The question I get the asked most is not what I’d expect. People aren’t too terribly shocked that I’m building my own house with my own hands…or that at the same time I’m baking bread weekly for as many people as are organized enough to place orders (hint, hint), or that I’m doing all of this on a miniscule budget. Impressed, yes, but surprised, no. Instead, the question is “How do you ever have time to write your blog?”. Well, I can’t say that it’s easy, but blogging is a commitment that I made to myself when I decided to start this huge adventure, and come hell or high water I intend to keep it up! Some weeks it means sitting here wrestling with words, photos, and a terrible internet connection for several hours instead of taking a much needed nap. Other weeks it means getting up at 5 one morning to punch out a blog post before it’s light enough to work outside, then proofreading and publishing it after lunch, when it’s too hot outside to get much done on the house. Today it means taking an hour or so out of my Sunday, the day I set aside for running errands, a few social commitments, catching up on sleep, and doing those household things that tend to get overlooked all week.

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A post made from a Saman tree branch, absolutely massive, ground to a rough finish with 34 grit paper on a 4 inch grinder.

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Posts made from Manjack wood, some already stripped down with a hatchet, some still intact.

A quick briefing on the Nid Tiny House progress, and then I’m going to talk about food, ok? So the Nid. The driveway is drivable – or so Mandy has demonstrated, as I’m not brave enough to gun the pickup up a steep and bumpy curve with a load of sand, gravel, or timber in the back – the foundation wall is knee-high, all ready for the posts to be set in, and the posts are about one hour of grinding away from being set upright on the wall. This week has been spent mostly on cutting and stripping the posts, using a chainsaw then a hatchet and lump hammer. A slow process, costing me a couple of chunks of skin (hatchets and chisels should not be used when overtired) and a certain amount of frustration, sawdust in the eyes, and far too much effort in hauling and lifting 100+lb over-sized posts. I’m nearly there, however, and having them standing in place will be a huge achievement.

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In other news this week, Mandy was removing the fallen roof of one of the ruins. Little of the wood was salvageable, so most was burnt in the floor of the ruin.

Now for my other love: food. Place some bread orders, y’all! I do love the baking, but I also love spreading amazing, wholesome, delicious bread through the community, that is so starved of fresh, local, healthy baked goods. This week, as well as the bread (white and cooked-grain – see Produce and Products for more info on each) I made what I’m calling Tiny House Toasties: thinly sliced bread baked with olive oil and rosemary and just a hint of salt, a crunchy snack akin to (but so much better than) bagel crisps. For the household, I also roasted a chicken (with English style stuffing, of course), a to-die-for tray of wonderfully caramelized sweet potatoes and carrots, and a couple of arugula-feta quiches. The quiches are pretty yummy, perhaps I’ll be nice and share a recipe today?

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Apologies to any vegetarians out there, but this really is a great way to roast a chicken. 500-600ºF for about an hour.

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So pretty!! Let me tell you, that pastry tastes even better than it looks.

Arugula Feta Quiche

For the pastry:
1 1/3 C white flour
1 t salt
1/4 C crisco (yes, really, it makes the texture just right)
1/4 C butter (frozen)
2 T cold water

Mix flour and salt, throw in crisco and cubed butter. Swiftly flake the butter into the flour with your hands, the crisco should somewhat combine with the flour during this process. Leave the lumps of butter, just try to flatten each one as you go. Add the water and gently stir/squeeze together with your hand, just enough so that no flour is left dry. Do not try to make it into a smooth dough! Cover and place in ‘fridge for an hour or two.

For the filling:
1 bunch arugula (coarsely sliced)
3 eggs
1/2 C milk (or water)
3/4 C Feta (crumbled roughly)
1/4 C shredded cheese (any kind, optional)
1 small onion (diced)
salt, pepper to taste

Beat the eggs in a bowl, add everything else and stir to combine.

Take pastry out of the fridge, should be very cold (freezer works well too), turn onto a heavily floured board, roll to 1/4 in thick, then fold in half and roll again to just under 1/4 in. Drape into a 9 or 10 in round pie pan, trim edges, pour in filling and bake at 400ºF for about 35min or until no longer liquid in the center. Enjoy!

In this hot, humid climate arugula is super easy to grow in the garden or in tubs in full sun, maybe you want to try? From seed it comes up in about 3 days and is ready to start picking in about 5 weeks, or you can go to the Ag center and get seedlings that are only about 2 weeks from picking for around 10c each.

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Bake day lunch!

I just scored some milk that was on sale, so this week I’ll be making some fresh soft cheese, a real treat! With some herbs from the garden it’ll be superb on the sourdough bread or maybe even on the toasties…the possibilities are endless. Cheese will be a tad tricky to make as I’m currently house sitting, so have to drive halfway across the island each night, but it shall be done. The drive is well worth the escape it provides from the endless tasks related to building and simply living in the jungle, plus letting Mandy have her living room back for a little while. I’m just waiting for the day when I can move into the Nid and call it my own…

Hungry now? You’re welcome.

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Last Sunday Mt Victory Camps up the road from us not only built this pretty bonfire, but also hosted a great event: Dub in the Rainforest. So happy that West End St Croix raised its sleepy head for a night!

Cheers – remember to show some love in the comments section!

Sleeping on the job

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My sleepy secretary cat: Chinah.

 

Sleeping again! Not fair!

Sleeping again! Not fair!

I write this a few days late – it’s Easter Sunday – but it’s been a rough week and then I had to gear up to a busy weekend! Yesterday was not only my regular baking day, complete with having to do some last-minute repairs to the oven right before lighting it, but also a birthday pizza party (pizza made by yours truly, of course) for Jan (my Mom’s partner). This being only my second time making pizza in the wood-fired barrel oven things were a little dicey at first, despite an amazing temperature of 600deg F! It seems that I haven’t quite got the hang of using a pizza peel yet, so a few came out looking a little the worse for wear, though tasting absolutely amazing. All said and done, no one left hungry and people seemed happy and suitably impressed. Besides, I made some excellent sangria using white rum, lemons, red wine, and Barbados Cherry juice, so probably no one will remember! Perhaps I shouldn’t admit to it, but I’m still sipping on some of that sangria while I write…

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Sourdough wood-fired pizza!

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Jan built another gate to keep the big bad wolves from escaping and terrorizing all the cyclists and joggers.

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On Friday we had to build a new shelter for the oven, due to the amount of rain we’ve been getting. PVC pipe on rebar, with cross-braces and a tarp. Hopefully it’ll last until we have time to build the oven a real roof!

Despite a certain desire to sleep in, this morning Mandy, Jan, I, some friends, and the two dogs (Zozo and Zada) took a lovely Easter hike up the Caledonia Gut (stream bed), including a steep ascent (for a couple of us brave souls) up the face of a (trickling) waterfall. It was fun, beautiful, and far more healthy than sleeping the day away! Sometime I shall have to hike all of the way up, to the top of the “mountain”, from which there are great views and a road going down the other side. I may be missing out on the Baltimore spring, but I shall not miss out on the hiking!

Zada had great fun splashing around in all the pools!

Zada had great fun splashing around in all the pools!

Building progress was a tad slow this week, thanks to a day of the ‘flu and subsequent exhaustion. Perhaps it’s just reached that point where I need a few days’ break, yet we all know that will not happen for I am far too motivated to possibly take more than one day at a time off! Despite everything, Mandy and I were able to get the stone foundation wall up to an appropriate height to set in the wooden posts, and those have all been measured for positioning and length, now it’s just up to me to accumulate the last few posts before I may raise them and brace them in place. Once that has been accomplished I’ll be able to put the very last course of stone around the posts – bedding them in – and then will move on up to the bamboo lathes and building in the loft and “furniture” before breaking out the plaster.

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Nearly done with stonework – exciting for me, though Mandy claims to actually like this part of it!

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Walls up to post height!

In other matters around the property, we’ve had an influx of tomatoes, both ripe and green from Paul (our tenant and neighbour), so early in the week I set some tomato vinegar and some green tomato lactobacillus pickles to set – the vinegar is just chopped tomato in a sugar solution, the pickles are chopped green tomato, seasoning peppers, garlic, and spices in the saline solution, weighted in the antique pickle crock that my Mom gave me this winter. The pickles will sit for a couple of weeks until pickly, while the vinegar will be strained today and then set to cure for a couple more weeks – much like making wine, but purposely contaminating it so that it instead turns to vinegar. It’s been raining every day, sometimes for hours, which whilst annoying for the building is great for the garden! I have a brand new row of greens coming up nicely (dug and seeded less than 5 days ago) and the rows I’d planted out (started in seed trays) 1-2 weeks ago are already producing greens and basil. An old BBQ of the horizontal barrel shape was just found at one of the dumps, so that will shortly be a raised bed for some cucumbers, which if planted in the ground here immediately get devoured by aphids – an ongoing problem that I’m determined to circumvent without the use of chemicals!

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Green tomato pickles in an antique pickle crock!

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Tomato vinegar!

Did I mention that the Nid now has its own driveway? It’s been too rainy to actually get the truck up it, but in theory it is now a drive-able road! I’m hoping that my dear Uncle John will be back soon to grade it a little, making it easier to get truckloads of gravel and sand up to the Nid – saving hours of back-breaking labour carting such substances by wheel-barrow. All in good time.

Cheers, and happy Easter to all my followers and fans!

Rock, rock, and more rock

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The Great Wall of China…some 5,000 miles…well that’s not quite what we’ve built this week. However, at the start of the week it did feel like a project of that proportion, with ridiculous quantities of material to be hauled up the hill by hand: rocks, sand, cement, wood, and one’s own body, weary from 5 weeks of toil. Nonetheless, progress has been made – impressive progress if I say so myself – and we’re nearly to the top of the stone section of the wall, hopefully being ready by early next week to set in the upright posts.

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Getting too high to hop over!

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And higher!

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Mandy and Patt working hard helping to lay the bathroom wall.

The process of laying the stone foundation has several steps. First was a layer of the largest possible stones, positioned in the bottom of the foundation trench. Then, the next layer was dry-laid (without mortar) for fit, before removing the stones one-by-one to apply cement beneath and around each individual stone. The layers continue in this fashion, each layer several stones wide to accommodate the breadth of the wall – 18in at the bottom, 12-14in at the top – on which the [vastly oversized] upright posts shall sit. Once the posts have been set on the wall, one final stone layer shall be set, thereby encasing the base of each post securely in the wall.

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Up to post height! Needs to be cemented in tomorrow.

The posts, also, must be prepared. The are being garnered from tree trunks and limbs of varyingly appropriate size, and of course none are quite straight, and they come in whatever lengths they grew…and are covered in bark. Firstly, I pick my tree or limb. Then, I take my wonderful 18″ chainsaw and fell it to the ground, trimming off any side-branches and trimming it to a fairly straight length, within reason. The fun part is in taking a hatchet (small axe) and a small sledge hammer to the bark, peeling it off in satisfying strips, leaving a beautiful, bare length of wood, all ready to be used in a wall. Ahem. When it works like that. The majority of the time the bark does not in fact “peel” but must be chipped away, one meticulous hatchet-and-hammer blow at a time, and then be attacked with a grinder in order to attain a somewhat smooth finish. Here’s a video clip of the process going well:

The door frame also had to be built, which required my somewhat rusty carpentry skills to be put to use. All is well and I still have 10 fingers and toes! Thus far. My mortice-and-tenon joints aren’t very pretty, but will probably still be the strongest part of the entire house. Had anyone ever thought to teach me the finer aspects of carpentry, they might now be proud of me, but instead I may take all the credit for myself! Perhaps I shouldn’t mention that tall people aren’t allowed into the Nid: the doorway is only 6’1″, not the standard 6’8″…long story.

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Mortice and tenon joint on the door frame, before assembling and drilling for the pin.

It’s nearly 2 weeks since I had a day of “rest”, and I’m tremendously worn out so that’s all for now! I must mix a drink and psych myself up for lots of cementing tomorrow morning, and then my biggest yet batch of bread on Saturday – orders can still be placed until noon on Friday, using the order form on the Products page.

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Made it down to the beach just in time for a lovely sunset after a hard day’s work!

Have something to say? Don’t forget that you can cheer me on in the “comments” feature below, and/or follow Nidulari via email using the “follow” button to the right of the page!

Nidulari Sourdough!

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It’s true! Nidulari Sourdough Bread production is up and running on a weekly basis, having had an extremely successful first run last weekend! These weekly “bake sales” are helping to fund the Nidulari Tiny House project, and will give an outlet to other surplus from the property: fruit, vegetables, decorative flowers, and other baked goods. In the “Products and Produce” tab above, there is both a bread order form and a listing of other things that are currently available.

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After a day of preparation, only a little panic, and a 5am morning, bread was on the rise by about 7am on Sunday.

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By 9am the bread had been divided into loaves, and those were rising as I lit the fire in the bread oven, with a goal of having the oven at 425deg F by the time the bread rolls were ready to go in. That way the oven should be at around 450deg F by the time the full size loaves go in. As it turns out, practice will make perfect, but this time my temperature was lagging a little behind the rising time of the bread – not a huge problem, but it created extra work in re-shaping the loaves before they went in.

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The oven can accommodate two racks, but I removed the upper one for easier access, as I decided it would be easier to do more smaller batches when cooking the bread, rather than trying to fill the entire oven at once. This method works well in a barrel oven, as once up to temperature the oven requires very little attention in order to maintain a steady cooking temperature. In fact, by 9am the next morning the oven was still at nearly 200deg F!

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I had a number of orders for bread last week, which was extremely encouraging, though also a little scary – it being the first “real” bake day. Everything turned out perfectly, and if in doubt I’m sure that several of my customers will be happy to chime in on how delicious both varieties of bread were! Make sure you place your order for next Saturday’s baking, or stop by in the meantime to grab a bag of granola!

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That’s all for now, stop back soon to see the progress on the Nid construction – when the rain stops!