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12/29/14

Where At The Off Grid Modern Prefab House I Watch Our Off Grid Life Explode. THE CHRISTMAS EDITION.

Well, our off grid prefab house's world was rocked.
The Pips are finally well again. (Yay.)
But our off grid systems are not.

If you recall, we recently installed a generator to provide peace of mind over the 2-3 weeks of winter cloud cover. Let me be clear: this generator was only to be used in those rare, dire circumstances, to provide, again, PEACE. OF. MIND, over those weird 1-2 times a year that *might* happen.

Instead, the generator has totally wrecked havoc on our battery bank. Now, instead of 5ish days of power storage, we have... ONE DAY.

Here's what happened, according to Handsome Husband: 
  • the battery bank consists of three parallel strings of batteries and was missing the jumper from the first to the rest of the strings, interrupting the flow of current
  • the negative connection to the battery bank was made to the first rather than the last string
  • with the last two winters containing polar vortices and long stretches of cloud cover, discharged our battery bank below 50%, which you never want to do
  • being dependent on the sun only these years, we weren't able to equalize the batteries regularly (equalizing requires that the batteries reach 100% charge AND you have enough sun left to do a controlled overcharge)
Disaster, schmaster.
[Ahem. I had no idea the batteries were not regularly equalizing.]
4 1/2 years and a generator later, the batteries will not hold a charge.

Suddenly, the HRV automatic switch stopped working.
Suddenly, our off grid Sundanzer freezer, which always worked fine, went on the fritz- there was power, but it was not freezing. Some people might not understand: "What's the big deal, her freezer died." Here, when your freezer goes down, after carefully filling it for winter, it IS a major crisis. The freezer contains our next year of organic, carefully grown / sourced food, hundreds and hundreds of dollars of food that we RELY on over winter especially when snowbound for days at a time with the nearest grocery store twenty+ miles away.

With sick kids and the most extreme winter months bearing down, this week I watched our off grid lifestyle... explode.

It's Christmas.
Winter is supposed to be when we're supposed to be all curled up, relaxing in the off grid house, contentedly eating our way through the carefully filled freezer and pantry...

On Christmas Eve, instead of languidly relaxing, enjoying family time... we were on the phone frantically trying to fix and troubleshoot our off grid systems, then scurried to neighboring friends' farms to stash our freezer contents in their own spare freezer spaces.
BIG THANKS to our friends
who lent us freezer space this week!

(And lots more on our off grid systems drama, after the Christmas Dinner jump.)

Well Our Off Grid Prefab House Might Have Been Having Solar / Off Grid System Issues, But That Didn't Stop Santa, Or Christmas Cheer!

Winter's cook stove season is in full swing at the off grid prefab house, and, after two weeks of illness, we are on the mend, and cheerful, even with a broken freezer!!!!
We decided to have Christmas Eve's seven course dinner with items ONLY FROM OUR FREEZER / PANTRY. (Da da da DUMMMMMM...)

Seven Courses From Mah Freezer
Like many of you, I saw the cutest video on children being served a seven course meal and thought, "Oh, how fun, I wonder if I could make a seven course meal from my freezer?"
And so the challenge began, especially as our freezer is broken.

I rummaged around and saw ravioli Handsome Husband and I made a few weeks back, herbs I picked, freezer jam, fresh frozen veggies from the Amish auction, chicken legs and necks, venison, and hmmmmmmmm...


Course 1 Appetizers
For the kiddos, tea or cider we had on hand; for us, *duh*, a cocktail: martinis.
Spicy chickpeas (Ok I raided the pantry, too. Soak, cook, then sautée chickpeas with o/o, allspice, cumin, salt and chole masala if you have it.)
Homemade Potato Chips: Thinly sliced potatoes, lightly hand-rubbed together with good olive oil, sprinkled salt, pepper, and sweet smoked paprika.

Course 2 Soup
Foot soup. Just kidding, kinda. Washed the chicken feet, peeled 'em, simmered them in water a long while (remember, it's cook stove season, I can do that), removed the feet, strained, then added ginger, onions and carrots. Make sure the broth is at a higher ratio than carrot. I always keep a bulb of ginger in the freezer, it's easy to keep and easy to shave off as much as you want to use. Salt, pepper... Puree.
Course 3  Fish or Pasta
There is no fish in the freezer, because we eat all our seafood when we're actually on the bay. But behold: That ravioli we made a few weeks ago!!! That ravioli we made was amazing- homemade pasta filled with sauteed onion, ricotta, parmesean, ham... with a dusting of nutmeg. I sauteed it in butter and topped it with pasta sauce I canned earlier this summer with lots of fresh basil, garlic, tomatoes, onion in it...

 -- INTERMISSION --
Dance party.

Course 4 
Lamb with Sweet & Sour Pumpkin
The Lamb Chops Saute first diced onion, add a touch of balsamic, once caramelized push to the side and add the lamb, season with salt, pepper, rosemary. (I have a huge rosemary bush!) Top with onion.

Sweet & Sour Pumpkin: I always have long winter squash that are like really long butternuts on hand - Tahitian melon. I cut a little off at a time and use as I please through winter. And LO and BEHOLD against the east corner of the prefab home I found a few leftover leaves o' mint!

Refresh: Ooooo! I found frozen whole tomatoes! And a tub of minced basil in oil! Quickly wash the tomatoes in hot water which makes it easy to remove their skins, then shave into small mounds of "ice"- and top with a dot of the basil oil!
Course 5 Salad 
Kale Chips With Garlicky Tahini
I always freeze lots of kale, and corn, knowing how much we use it. Frozen corn tastes so much better than canned... often I just toss it onto salads, uncooked, and it gives a memory of summer, in winter. Make kale chips, drizzle with tahini. Yum.

Course 6 Dessert or *Cheeses*
Make white cheese & serve with b
lackberries
Sparkling cider...
We froze a *bunch* of blackberries this summer! Now... what to do with them...
Pip 2: "Blackberry thumbprint cookies!" Ooooooo.
OR I could just forget about this course, remember it later, and eat a cookie instead.

Course 7 Fruit
We always have oranges on hand... drizzled with some of summer's jam syrup, just a touch.

End with herbal (SLEEPY TIME... go to bed now, kids...) tea for the kiddos, and a digestif for we adults.

Here's some other recipes from the week:
Remember all those green tomatoes we gathered in fall?
Yep, here it is Christmas and we're using the last ones up, slowly ripened to red; now perfect to top off heavy black bean soup, with promises of summer.

At this point some of the tomato's seeds are even sprouted within; that makes it even more fresh, nutritious, delicious.

Winter Warmin' Black Bean Soup
Sautee LOTS o' minced garlic, onion, add in washed dry beans then hot water to cover well; throw in some bones with fat you've saved in the freezer, salt, pepper... simmer simmer simmer... add cumin, coriander, cilantro, and lime juice. Top with some grated cheddar... At this point you're craving not just comfort food but freshness- hence the lime juice, and if you have fresh tomatoes / lettuce (or fresh parsley / cilantro) then top each bowl with shredded lettuce / diced tomatoes.

Reading Club:

Despite the off grid systems saga, and Dominion Resources Grinch-ness to private landowners and citizens, the holidays continued. We were in off grid systems disaster denial, which is easy to do when you visit relatives in the city.
This too, used to be a country house! That's now a city house,
moved in the 1920s.

AVOID THE MISTLETOOOOOOE...
There is something amiss in his attire...



It's a CanJo, y'all.


Here's the silver-lining cool thing we learned from our off grid battery disaster: We like our system size just fine.
I always run on and on about how MINIMAL our solar system is. But when we, due to this snafu, evaluated our wants and needs for off grid systems, we were...
"Meh, we like it as it is! Naw, let's not get bigger."
(And my off grid battery bank disaster summation, after the arts and culture jump!)

In the meantime, we used the city visit to culture up!
A visit to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the exhibit on the Forbidden City, tied great into our studies on ancient China this year.

The China theme segued into greater Asia- to a contemporary exhibit upstairs where a current Japanese artist, Miwako Nishizawa, painted her impressions with traditional Japanese methods on Twelve Views of Virginia. Beautiful.

We enjoyed Maymont as always, during the "off season."
"Pet me! Pet me! Pet me!
Show these city people where my scratchy parts are!!!!"
OH the irony of leaving the country
to go to the city to pet donkeys, goats, and horses...
so I stood, scratching UNDER the chin,
showing kids where
the scratchy parts are vs. molesting the ears...
he was SO appreciative...
WE SHOULD BE PETTING ZENA!
#homesick

We Nutcrack'd.

The city is fun to visit, but now, we are home.
Even with snafus, we *love* our off grid life...
My Off Grid Battery Bank "Disaster" Summation: 
The average monthly residential electricity bill in Virginia is $124, which ranks 8th in the nation. and is 15.89% greater than the national average of $107.  Almost five years ago we paid $335 for 8 solar batteries that now need to be replaced. $335x8= $2,680 divided by... wait a second. Why does my post that lists our own off grid project costs dated January 2008?  Okaaaaaaaaaaaaaay. So we bought the batteries in the New Year of 2008? So that means $2,680 divided by SIX years? Ok...
$2,680 divided by 6... let's round it to $450 a year.

So. The average monthly Virginia electric bill is $124 (not counting other utilities, which for us, are free!), times 12, that's $1,488 a year.
Doing the math, we paid $450/year for utilities. For... everything- water, heat, electric... which aren't accounted for in this.
Handsome Husband debates the battery bank purchase date- he thinks it was later so I will humor him- let's say it was 2010 instead of 2008 (for the sake of argument because y'all know I'm right, right?!?) we purchased the batteries- that still would bring us to $670/year, still more than half the average cost per year.
(You know I'm right, by the way... right? Anyone?) 
Even with off grid learning curves, with batteries incorrectly set up, I call that success.
Next week: The next off grid system steps, in detail.

And: One last recipe, due to the H's stopping unexpectedly in on their return from southwest Virginia holiday travels-
Disaster Chili
Loads of minced garlic, lotsa onion, sauteing in olive oil in a dutch oven / great soup pot on the stove.
Oh. Wait. ALL OF OUR MEAT IS IN FREEZERS AT VARIOUS FRIENDS' FARMS.
Heeeeeeeeeey: Is that... BACON in the fridge, still? Ohhhhhhhh yes.
Cut the bacon small, sautee along with everything. Wash and add various dark and light pinto / kidney beans. Add in water to cover. Add in my typical onion/tomato/ salsa-ish sauce. Look through the fridge since your freezer is empty to see what other odd and ends you can add in to add taste. (Oooooo is that some leftover pizza sauce?) Add salt, chili powder, cumin. Ohhhhh siracha. Top with grated cheddar. Everyone: "THIS IS FANTASTIC!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Sometimes, during disasters, great things happen.
He is handing his IP Lawyer her retainer... with lots of love.
We are so grateful for all our fantastic friends who have stepped into our children's lives to grow them. Our friends assure them they can dream to be whatever they be. 

From the B's, A's, ALL the H's... Pip 1's Java AP programmer Fairy Godmother fussing over him at the coffee shop, the IP lawyer who, smiling, accepts her "retainer" for an invention, the science teacher who stands over making sure they are challenged and respectful to their harried mom when she needs a break... 
We are so, SO grateful.

It might be a challenging time at the off grid prefab house; but we are having a blast, and, as always, so grateful for our friends.

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