Slow in Snow

Faith in the SnowWe’ve begun the first official day of winter, but winter settled into New Mexico’s bones a couple of weeks ago. It’s time for work inside—for writing and thinking and slowing down just a little. The roof has gone onto the lodge, so we’re just about ready to move inside to work. Windows and doors will go on and then we’ll add in porch and bedroom ceilings and lay down the straw bales to seal the gables. Then it’s time to do inside finish work—plumbing, electrical, floors, plaster, the kiva fireplace, tiles and flagstone, and all the other bits and pieces.

Both the plumbing and electrical have been kept simple—and to code. There are a couple of reasons for this. Simple also means easier to implement.

The plumbing all comes into one wall for the kitchen and the bathroom. We’ve laid this out so we can pull our water from a tank outside to the main lodge. We discussed a couple of options here, but we basically did not want lots of pipe in the ground from the well to the lodge—and building the lodge near the well was not in the cards. The well sits in low ground, so it’s a possible flooding area. And we wanted the lodge on high ground. To avoid possible freezing pipes—and having lots of trenching that would tear up the land—we’re opting for a water tank next to the lodge. The other advantage of this is that we’ll be able to monitor water use. Instead of looking at this as an endless resource that always is there, we’ll use water more wisely if we both see the water levels going down, and if we have to haul water up to the lodge. That’s how it’s worked so far with our temporary shelters.

For the electrical, we’ll be duplicating the wind/solar system we currently have. It’s been working very well. We did find that two banks of five batteries each was not charging the way we wanted—they tended to get out of balance, with one being drained more than the other and then it wouldn’t charge because the first bank showed full. A new 24-watt inverter that handles all ten batteries has evened out our flow of power and we’re back to having more electrical than we can use. The lodge will be set up to use more of that—we’ll have ceiling fans, a TV, and outlets every six feet (per code). But we’re going to skip a dishwasher (it’s more fun to make this a social activity), a microwave (no need for this if there’s a pot of something always simmering on the stove), and the usual washer/dryer.

Once we’re inside, the Wonder Wash will be idea to use, particularly for small loads—it’s a lot easier on the clothes, and you actually get your wash done faster (it takes 2 to 3 minutes to wash, and 1 to 2 minutes to rinse, so even with adding and draining water, laundry only takes 10 minutes). For the cold days, we’ll add in a drying rack that can sit before the fire (or in sunlight inside). But I do miss hanging out the laundry to dry—it comes in so crisp and smelling on pinon and cedar.

It has been a good time to bake and to try out a lot of slow cooking recopies. For fish stew we’ve been using canned herring, sardines, clams and some frozen fish. With some olive oil, garlic, basil, capers, olives, tomatoes, canned corn, and potatoes, it makes for a great all day simmer, both heating up the living space and providing a great meal. And Hatch’s green chilies have become a favorite—they go great with any egg or cheese dish, and are a wonderful addition to potato-cheese soup.

Next year we’ll be growing more of our food, as well. We visited a neighbor who has in a winter garden. His root crops—carrots, turnips, potatoes—are still in the ground, now covered by a hay-straw mulch to keep them warm. We’ve been using a similar mulch to keep our compost happy. This also keeps his root garden warm and growing until spring comes around. So we’ll be copying that technique as well as building a greenhouse to give us winter lettuce and a few early foods, such as asparagus.

With snow on the ground, building has slowed down. The days are short enough that the sun doesn’t show up with its warmth until about 10 AM, and by 4 PM it’s starting to get dark and chilly again. We’ve had a few cold nights with the temp dipping below freezing, but we’ve also had warmer nights that stay in the 40’s—it all depends on how much snow is on the ground. And if there are clouds, they hold in the warmth. It’s the clear nights that are very cold—but incredibly beautiful.

Green Chili Potato-Cheese Soup

6 to 8 baked potatoes
1 lb. grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 can Hatch’s chopped green chilies
1 cup milk or soymilk
1/2 cup butter
2 cups waters
1/2 teaspoon garlic (chopped or garlic salt)
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
salt and pepper to taste

Put butter in cooking pot, add garlic and chilies. Add other seasoning. Simmer. Scoop out baked potatoes and add to the seasoning. (For a smoother soup, do not put in skins. However, you can finely chop up and use the skins in the soup. If you don’t use the skins, pop them in the oven with cheese and butter—and maybe a strip of bacon—inside to make a snack to eat while the soup cooks.) Add milk and water. Mash potatoes into the liquid. Add butter. Add Worchester to taste—a few dashes. Slowly add grated cheese, stirring in so that cheese melts into the liquid. Put in salt and pepper to taste. Simmer on a very low heat and serve. (NOTE: A touch of paprika or nutmeg on the top of the soup adds a touch of color, and a little more complex taste, when serving.) Makes enough for about six to eight people, depending on how many come back for seconds.

Fish Stew

3 cans of herring in tomato sauce
2 cans sardines in olive oil
1 can anchovies in olive oil (optional)
1 can clams (chopped or whole)
2 fillets frozen white fish
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 to 3 cloves chopped garlic
1 Tablespoon capers
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon parsley
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon thyme
2 chopped small fresh tomatoes (optional)
salt/pepper to taste
1/4 cup red wine
5 cups water

Poor olive oil into a large soup pot. Add chopped garlic, parsley, basil, oregano, thyme, and capers. Simmer. Add wine, herring and tomato sauce. Add sardines and olive oil. Drain and add clams. If adding optional items, add anchovies with their olive oil and fresh chopped tomatoes. Add in water. Bring to a low boil. Add in frozen white fish fillets. Turn heat to low and simmer for a few hours. (This stew is even better the next day, so this is a good stew to make in a crock pot, or to make, refrigerate and then simmer again the next day for a couple of hours before you serve.)

Can be served over pasta or bread. Makes enough for about eight servings.

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