Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Downeast Woods

A big draw to moving to our area was the trail running opportunities. Kate and I are both ultrarunners, and being able to access amazing mountains and forests from our doorstep, most of the time without seeing a soul, was a great selling point.

Acadia National Park is just 45 minutes away, but since we've moved, I've only gone down there to run once. That park is amazing, obviously, but the beauty of the woods and mountains around our home gives it a run for its money. We aren't right on the coast like ANP is, but we also don't have hordes of tourists. Just moose, deer and bears. Still, it's nice knowing that ANP is there.

Below are a smattering of pictures from trail adventures that are within running distance from our home:

Road running; backwoods style.

A tiny brook trout. Trail running is great for fly fishing recon. 

I'll confess that this is not a running picture. I took it near the post office three miles down the road, but I couldn't resist including it. 

Bluff lookout. 

Chick Hill in the distance 

More views from the top. 

Early signs of autumn in late summer. 

Scrub forest.

Autumn on a backwoods pond. It has brook trout and can is just four miles from our house. 

Public canoe. 

More early autumn. 

Leaves about at their peak. 

The mountains of Acadia National Park in the distance. 

Old Man Winter knocking on the door in late Autumn. 

One has to bushwhack to reach this peak. 
Yep. We love it here. We worked hard to make it happen and don't take it for granted. Happy trails!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Value of the Wood Cookstove

I woke up this morning facing my alarm clock, noticing that it wasn't on. Out here in our neck of the boonies, on average, the power tends to go out about every two weeks. Sometimes for 30 minutes. Other times for several hours. It's just part of living in a very rural area that is also known for whacky weather.

Walking downstairs with the light from my phone, I shined it on an old flip clock and noticed the power had gone out around six hours earlier at 11:22pm. I got to splitting up wood for kindling (wood warms you twice!) and fired up our Modern Clarion. Within minutes, the fire was going and our house was on its way to warming back up. About an hour later, I decided to make the most of the heat and baked a batch of biscuits. Kate then used the stove top to cook bacon and eggs. Multi-tasking at its finest.

Pre-dawn fire-up during a power outage.

Mmmm, buttermilk biscuits.

Bou watches on from her favorite chair as Kate cooks eggs.

Mmmm, bacon. 

Let me rewind a bit... In 2011, Kate and I took a week long trip to Prince Edward Island. We visited the house where Lucy Maud Montgomery, "Anne of Green Gables" author, was born. The house has been converted into a museum, and seeing its somewhat small size and lack of other cars in the parking lot, I was hesitant to go in, fearing an overenthusiastic curator who would be overly joyous to see someone and talk our ears off. But Kate grew up with Montgomery's books and insisted, and I was very glad I relented. It was a cool little museum; the whole place was very interesting from a historical perspective, but one thing had caught my eye more than anything else: A beautiful antique wood cookstove.

The stove form the Montgomery museum that caught my eye. 

Kate grew up nearby from where we now live and has been around wood stoves for most of her life, but I, being from Florida, have not. I had never seen an antique wood cookstove before and laying eyes on that one in Canada sparked a major fascination that stuck like an axe. So, imagine my glee when we bought a farmhouse that came with one. I don't think I'm very materialistic in general, but pardon my exception here; I love that thing.

Me working the stove. 

Front view of our Modern Clarion, here seen simmering chicken stock.

We've really come to appreciate the Modern Clarion. It's our first season with it, and we're still learning how to maximize its efficiency, but we have gotten a good grasp on it so far; meaning, nothing horribly burnt to destruction yet.

I'm not going to get into details on operation much, as we are hardly experts, but here are a few very general notes and things we've picked up on:
  • The firebox is on the left. The oven is the bigger box on the right. 
  • There are four dampers to adjust airflow and heat circulation. Mastering them all and their relations to one another is key.
  • Those circular plates on the stovetop are not burners. They are access panels that are round so you can place a pot inside to heat it quicker. The two on the left are above the firebox and allow us to add wood. The other four are above the oven box. 
  • When using the stovetop, the left side is hotter, the right side is not as hot. Adjust heat by moving the pan. 
  • This ain't no fancy convection oven. The oven box has hot/cool spots and food needs to be rotated for evenness. It's not a big deal, though. 
  • Oven heat can be inconsistent. Adjust accordingly by adding wood or adjusting the dampers. Again, it's not a big deal. You absolutely have to monitor things though and be willing to adjust cooking time depending on the oven's temperature. 
  • The thermometer on the outside door is not accurate. From what I've read, pretty much all of them are not. We bought an inside-the-oven thermometer for better accuracy and have learned as a general rule that the outside gauge is 50 degrees warmer than the average internal temperature. 
Does food tastes better when cooked on a wood cookstove? Absolutely, especially in the oven. Hot air from the fire circulates around the oven box and there's a quality to the way that it cooks that's beyond psychosomatic and is hard to describe.

Buttercup squash seeds roasting in the oven. 

But there is definitely a learning curve. A batch of brownies came out slightly burnt on one side due to me not rotating them in time. And we should have gotten the fire hotter for our pizzas this afternoon (last week though, they came out absolutely perfect). But thankfully, no tragedies yet and way more successes than slight mishaps. One just has to monitor things closely, and it's well worth it.

Cooking aside, there are other benefits. As I mentioned, it keeps our house warm. The firebox on our Modern Clarion is actually pretty big, so when the whole oven is warmed up it puts out a very good amount of heat that eventually works its way to other rooms and upstairs. Also it acts as a great humidifier when we put a pan of water on the stove top.

We'll probably eventually get a generator, but are not in any big hurry. With heat and cooking ability, there are no problems there during a power outage in a winter. The only real inconvenience is not having power to operate our well pump and hot water heater, and I'm sure the tolerance will be pretty short-lived. But for now, we're grateful to be able to keep warm and cook without any electricity. We'll take it.