Erica Wisner

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since Feb 10, 2009
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Erica Wisner currently moderates these forums:
Was born, raised, and turned loose on an unsuspecting world. Originally an educator, now growing into writing & publishing, fire fighting, family care teams, and mountain ecological maintenance. Prone to extended explanations. (I like to explain things so that a 5-year-old and her PhD grandparent can both enjoy and 'get it'... no offence meant if you're somewhere in between!)
Okanogan Highlands, Washington
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Recent posts by Erica Wisner

Some tips from Ernie's experience cooking vegetarian, for work crews that can really use the calories and comfort of a "Fanny Farmer" classic country cooking:

"Chicken" Soup Base (Vegan):
- Take a light oil, heat in a frying pan, add brewers' yeast and brown slightly (like making a roux).  Add poultry seasoning, water or vegetable stock.  Salt and pepper to taste.
This makes a great base for "chicken" soups, and things that might call for chicken stock (soups, stews, rice pilafs, etc).  With the yeast you are getting a bit of the B vitamin thing too.

Fava "Beef" stew:
- Whole, fresh fava beans have a nice chewy mouth feel, and while they're not meat, they are a nice addition to recipes that call for beef when substituting a vegetarian version.

Savory sandwich spread:
- Take your favorite nut butter (almond, hazlenut, peanut), add a small proportion of miso paste, season to taste.  Sometimes he would do spicy/curry version, sometimes use lime, garlic, & cilantro like Pad Thai sauce, sometimes just a little bit of paprika, cumin, or green herbs.  Good sandwich filling, dip, or spread, if you prefer savory to PBJ.

Wheres-the-Sausage Pasta Sauce:
- Italian sausage has a characteristic blend of spices.  If you add these, along with some diced or ground-up mushroom and onion, to almost any red pasta sauce (marinara, etc), you can usually convince yourself it includes sausage.  Useful for making a heartier lasagna, too.
Pepper (crushed red pepper if available, or black pepper, or both)
pinch of rosemary, thyme, or other spices to taste.

You can do the same thing for "Sausage and Biscuits," where you make a white gravy and add these spices to give it that sausage hit.  Cut back on the oregano, increase the sage, and maybe a touch of maple/smoke, for that classic breakfast sausage.
3 days ago

Terry Wilson wrote:Would like to be there, you guys are so far away!  Are you going to be anywhere in the eastern US doing any workshops? how it attached, just finished tiling my fireplace.

Cool, that looks like quite a project!
I don't have any immediate plans for a trip East, but we've been discussing whether to do something like a "Show-and-Tell Tour" later in the fall. Visiting projects that people have built using our books and plans, and scheduling a few speaking events or site visits as needed. Depends on a lot of other factors.


Peter Chan wrote:Erica,

Yes, I'm interested in the kitchen workshop.  I don't have an easy way to get pictures onto my computer right now since I got rid of my cell phone data plan, but I've:

1. installed 'linen shelving'...
2. made a shaving brush stand out of an old wire coat hanger.  it looks pretty cool, and i saved $15 bucks buying one premade.
3. adjusted three treadle sewing machine bases so that they are properly adjusted for actually using with a sewing machine head and a leather belt....
4. converted a featherweight sewing machine to a hand crank --- ...
5. rewired a table lamp using parts from the local hardware store.
6. started the process of saving my car from the rust bogeyman, by sanding out the rust spots, and then priming them. ...
7. built wood kitchen shelving with a carpentry friend, and dabbled in re-chiseling hinge spaces on a door with a hand chisel.


I'd be happy to see if I could scrounge up some cotton towels and baskets.  i'm def. a basket person, and would love to learn how to prepare basket materials and weave them!!!  but it's always hit or miss finding baskets at goodwill.  I would want more detail on size of baskets (diameter and height), and handle type (arch, or two handles on each side).  

Sounds like you are a sewing and fiber addict, one of the categories I just decided to include. 

I would be totally delighted to see an off-grid sewing machine added to our camp luxuries that first week... it could significantly improve the comfort level as we go on with the PPDC, H PDC, and future visits.
I can think of so many uses for that, not just in the kitchen, but also for camping gear, firewood totes, and Ernie's favorite canvas buckets for hauling water.

It is quite practical to put together a portable camp kitchen using mostly fabric - I made Ernie a canvas kitchen setup that mounts in a cupboard in the family fishing boat, or rolls up and fits in a bucket for on-shore camping. 
We're planning a bigger kitchen for this particular context, so fabric is more for the finishing touches than the initial structure, but it would still be welcome.

Curtains are not only pretty, they function as insulation, manual controls on passive solar, privacy barriers, and can also provide insect control if designed with that in mind. 
(Or in rougher settings, a towel/curtain rack can do these jobs plus hand wiping. ;^))

Item descriptions for scrounging:
- Baskets: roughly bushel-sized baskets for laundry, smaller ones for serving / linens / herb drying.  Nothing so big as a closet hamper, we will need to fit these in the hand washer or in a car for town laundry runs.  Something that fits easily in the arms, or under one arm.
- Kitchen towels: A few larger towels in good shape, a bunch of not-so-perfect larger towels that can be cut down for kitchen rags and drying rags. 
- Scrubbies: 100% compostable, things like loofah, sea sponge, or the knitted or crocheted washable scrubbies in any natural fiber (cotton, linen, jute, hemp, etc). 
- Those cloth grocery bags, which can be used for all sorts of sorting and transporting.
- A couple of firewood totes, water-resistant natural canvas would be ideal.  (I can bring my oilskin goop if you find plain cotton canvas ones). 

Erica W
Seems like some of you multi-talented people may be wondering what skills to mention.

Skills like cooking, or scrounging, definitely count. 

We have a lot of stuff already built, that just needs moved up to the site and arranged.  So we can be somewhat flexible about the skills we really need.

Skills I would value highly:
- rough carpenters: decking, temporary roofing; tables, racks, benches or seating logs; solid spaces for kitchen equipment, supplies; protect electrical & greywater systems where they cross paths. 
Cabinetmakers, timber framers, or other skilled joiners could turn a rough affair into a work of art. 
- mechanics: potential for welding, creative bike-mechanic work for custom gearing & chain/axle drives/PTOs, maintenance checks on electric and conventional farm equipment.
- masonry and natural building - rocket stove building, operation, and/or maintenance; possible plastering or mortar repairs
- fiber, wicker, and weaving addicts;
- electrical skills: connect the PV system with some LED kitchen lighting, cell phone chargers, and run my laptop so I can share digital files & slide shows with you.  (Experience with the Wheaton Labs solar PV systems, and/or the electric farm equipment, would be a big plus.)
- basic plumbing and leveling: the plumbing doesn't need to be permanent, but we do need to set up dispenser tanks for hauled water (potable and non-potable), and some temporary greywater drains (hose style most likely)
- outdoor landscaping skills: experience with road, path, and trail maintenance; ditch-laying; roundwood construction.  (Your own pickup truck, or a local friend willing to lend you one, would be a plus.)
- kitchen design or ergonomic layout, including experienced cooks and community-living designers.
- Cooks: camp cooks, farm-to-table chefs, folks with experience in various community kitchens with a good feel for the ergonomics of shared cooking spaces.

I'm open to other offers.

(Peter Chan, you're not the biointensive garden guru, are you?  It's a fairly common name. 
If that is you, then maybe you would bring special super-powers that would relate to greywater harvesting and processing for safe use in kitchen gardens?)

Peter Chan wrote:What an awesome opportunity - Rocket Kitchen Workshop. 

I'm but lowly on the DIY totem pole, but I think I'm moderately street and build smart, for a city slicker.  i've contributed to patreon, but only a little bit thus far.  anyway, i'd love to come and be part of a kitchen build!  i think the kitchen and the textile washing (washing 'machine' / drying ) areas are the most important parts of the home, and knowing how to set things up in a way where cooking and washing is fun and effective, is critical when shifting paradigms and technologies in our daily lives.


Hi Peter, do I take it you're applying for a spot in the kitchen build workshop?

To give us an idea of your DIY level, would you be willing to attach a couple of photos of something you've improvised for yourself along the DIY lines?

If you are a resourceful recycler, maybe you would enjoy checking thrift stores and community exchange areas in your city for components? See below.

randall gabriell wrote:I'd be interested would love to connect again...

Randall, it would be great to see you again.  You are a strong candidate on my short list for applicable skills...

Peter, you get points for broadening the 'washing' idea to include laundry.  It would be neat to tie in a small-scale, "urgent laundry" setup to recycle water from the dish-rinse, and feed greywater more conveniently into the gardens nearby.
And even if most folks do laundry in town on days off, we could use some indoor drying facilities in case of rain.

Useful items to make this happen:
Recycled, gently-used items can often be found at waste transfer/dumping areas, recycle centers, thrift stores, yard sales, free piles, and on college campuses near the end of spring term. 
We could use:
- Cotton towels (any color or age)
- Some wooden shelving
- a wicker laundry basket or two, maybe other baskets for harvesting greens / winnowing seeds
- a wooden, folding clothesline rack for indoors (wall mounted, floor, or some of each) 

Preference will be for natural, non-toxic, non-plastic components - stuff that can easily be composted or recycled when it passes beyond its useful life.

This gets my amateur basket-weaving creative juices flowing, too.  If you have access to willow, osier dogwood, or other bendy sticks that don't have buds yet, coppice a few.
It's surprising how long even "ugly" basket will hold up and do its job, with more charm and grace than a cheap plastic alternative.

A quick, 8-page guide to our favorite alternatives for this critical part of clean-burning Rocket Mass Heaters and Rocket Cookstoves.

There are not a lot of materials that perform optimally at temperatures above 1000 F.  This "cookbook" gives you pros and cons of some popular materials, and ways to build either campfire cookstoves, or permanent installations for rocket mass heaters using the appropriate materials.

This cookbook is not intended to provide complete building instructions for rocket stoves, just alternative ways to build the heat riser that powers the whole works.
It will be most useful to people who have already read the Rocket Mass Heater Builders Guide, taken a workshop from an experienced builder, or otherwise gotten familiar with the basics of rocket stove design.

6 days ago
This is how we most often do the insulation around fire brick heat risers.

Without insulation, the temperature tends to equalize between the "up" and "down" draft areas (inside heat riser, and outside under the barrel).  This can create bad draft failures unless you have a very powerful exit chimney (and are sacrificing a lot of heat to keep it 100% reliable in all weather).  The most common symptom of this type of draft failure is for the stove to draw OK for the first 30-40 minutes, then start to smoke back out of the feed as it chokes on its own exhaust after the bricks heat through.

6 days ago
I'm getting excited about the number of local assets that we get to share during this course.

A few students have asked about pre-course introductions.  Well, how about a pre-course study guide, and a forum where you can introduce yourselves?

This course will be mostly hands-on and live action learning, in off-grid natural settings.  So we won't be using a lot of videos or digital media in the course. 

You may want to check them out ahead of time, however, or afterwards as you try to absorb all the great information you saw and heard.

Permaculture Study Resources:

Permaculture Design Principles:

Check out their bookstore, so many good resources!  Including this musical version of the 12 key principles:

The original Mollison permaculture curriculum is available online in a couple of formats, for free:
Original PDC pamphlets based on a 1980 course:  PDF download: PDC Pamphlets I-XIV PDF 
Online library of Bill Mollison lectures on core PDC topics... warning: off-key folk music you love to hate...)

For free physical books, Missoula Public Library has more permaculture titles than you have time to read this month.  Pick one that appeals to you.  (Don't get greedy.)

Local Guests and Field Trip Options: 
Some of these will be optional destinations for Saturday field trips, others may work with our class as guest instructors or on special projects.
- Free Cycles, Missoula: collaborators for all kinds of bike-powered and -geared tech.  They have Bike Weld classes and tours Weds, Saturday, and maybe other days.

ABC Acres, Hamilton MT: This is a little farther from our site, but they have a pretty slick setup including food forest plantings, integrated grazing for poultry and livestock production. Bitterroot valley.  They have a farm shop and tours on Saturdays.
  [youtube] [/youtube]

- Missoula Saturday Markets (Farmers, Peoples, Clark Fork)

- Garden City Harvest

- Quinns' Hot Springs Resort - about an hour away, includes mineral pools, showers, and some lovely cabins if you need a break from primitive camping. Picture attached.

More to come!  I have to stop adding pictures now, but we have a marvelous assortment of permaculture business owners, homesteaders, past PDC students, and other friends and guests who are planning to visit during the course.

If you have time to post flyers in the Missoula area, here is one (attached).
It has tear-off tabs on the lower right (cut between the copied text, so folks can tear one off).

Please reply here once you've posted them in a particular area.  Helps avoid duplicate effort and give credit where it's due.

For electronic mailing lists, please just use the links above.

Erica W
1 week ago
So excited to see you all!

I particularly want to draw your attention to a little ad-hoc workshop we are calling the Rocket Off-Grid Kitchen Build.  This will be Thurs 5/17 through Sat 5/19.
Details here:

The Off-Grid Rocket Kitchen Build stacks the functions of hanging out with us, preparing nice facilities for the PPDC and guests, and documenting some of our favorite off-grid tech in a lovely setting for future handbooks and video.  This workshop is FREE, but it will be limited to 6 highly functional people. 

Go here for the Off Grid Rocket Kitchen Build May 17-19

Please let me know right away if you want to share your talents with the PPDC during class time.
  You can PM me, or email me (see my profile for email address), or whatever works for you.

There are some specific topics that I'm still looking for guest speakers, particularly those with local knowledge or hands-on experience from a variety of perspectives. 
This includes not just farm skills, but sustainable business, self-care and people-care, and other niches in the web of resilient life.

We hope also to be somewhat available to hang out outside of class time, especially Ernie. 
Although you might get roped into Ernie's latest appropriate tech prototyping projects. 
(He's branching out from rocket development now that our book's done, to work on some designs he had on the back burner such as wind power and regenerative harvest systems.)

Thanks, and we look forward to seeing you!

Ernie and Erica