Wood-fired Sauna Worth the Work

It takes a bit of planning and work to prepare to sauna, but it is worth it. Plan 2-3 hours for the sauna to get to temp. It is just part of life and you need to learn planning with a wood fire.

Sauna building with snow covered roof and snow on ground.Wood-fired Sauna Worth the Work

In the north country, it was common for the sauna to be the first structure built. It could be lived in as the house was being built. As you drive around Cook County MN, you can’t help but notice the many styles of sauna the majority of which are wood heated. Wood is plentiful, affordable, and easy to get. While it takes a bit of planning and work to prepare to sauna, it is worth it. Read on to learn more about the how-to’s of the wood-fired sauna.Steel sauna stove inside sauna

Size matters—consider your needs when planning your sauna. Also, window versus no window, and stove access inside or outside. Our sauna was built by Owen Christensen of Duluth. The building is 8×12. Inside there is a 3 foot changing room with the remainder being the hot room. The stove feeds from the changing room. This is nice as all stove work is inside for comfort.Front of steel sauna stove which is inside changing room.

The sauna gets used during each visit to our cabin. We have experienced every season in Cook County Minnesota multiple times over the past 25 years. That said, I usually plan 2-3 hours for the sauna to get to temp. It is just part of life and you need to learn planning with a wood fire. During the colder months it is much slower to get 120-140 degrees inside the sauna.

I like to use compressed wood chip blocks for the sauna.  These burn cleaner and provide consistent btu output.  Menards has large ones and we have picked up smaller ones in the Amish area of northern Indiana.  I like the smaller ones as there is more control.  I can load the stove with 4 blocks and run to town for a couple hours. When I get back, the sauna is 80 to 100 degrees.  Dress the fire and it will be 120+ in a half hour.

During the winter, getting a good temperature takes a little more work. We had a heavy canvas made that hangs down the middle of the sauna. This essentially divides the hot room in two. Hot room inside sauna with 2 benches. Sand timer and thermometer on wall.We are able to get 120 degrees on the stove side of the canvas even at -25 outside. This divider functionally gives us three rooms. Changing room, warm room side, and the hot room side.

We are a dealer for Panther Primitive Tents. Our custom dividing canvas was manufactured by Panther Primitives after I measured and submitted a drawing.
The canvas is impregnated with a flame retardant at the factory. Never use unknown canvas or non-treated canvas near any fire.

The other day it was 23 degrees outside. The hot side of the canvas was 140 degrees. The stove damper was open about 25%. There was enough heat that we pulled back the canvas so that heat could bleed over to the other side faster.

Folks often have water available to put on the rocks that are located on the top of the stove. When we first had the sauna, I used a cooking ladle to dip water over to the rocks. This progressed to a spray bottle. After having a very tired trigger finger, I purchased a 1 gallon plastic bug sprayer. This filled with water is fantastic. We are able to maintain humidity while sitting back on the bench and shooting the rocks. We also spray down the canvas. The evaporation from the cloth also increased humidity.

My wife and I both highly recommend a sauna. American medicine often says to not sauna with various medical conditions. View into sauna from door into changing room with front of wood stove where it is fed. Bottom of candle window can be seen.

The Scandinavian counterparts say to use the sauna. You just need to use caution and common sense. Consult your medical advisor.

We opted to have a removable water jacket for our stove. We get very hot water we mix with cold water to achieve the rinse water temperature we like when ending our sauna.

Other features to consider adding to your sauna would be a sand, hourglass flip timer. I mounted one to the wall and we gauge our time spent in the sauna. Owen Christensen offered a candle window which we opted for. The window connects the changing room to the sauna room and you can put a flashlight lantern in there for a night sauna.

I hope I’ve peaked your interest in a wood-fired sauna. Below are resources I mentioned above.

Owen Christensen
Christensen Saunas

Fort Couch Quartermaster LLC
Cindy Avery
Panther Primitives Dealer

By Pete Avery

Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware

There is a much easier way to season cast iron that doesn’t go rancid or get a greasy build up on the iron.

When I was a kid we cooked a bunch with cast iron. I remember my folks saying never wash with soap. Top of Griswold Dutch oven lid No 8, Tite-Top BasterThey also would heat the oven up and rub olive oil or lard on the cast iron, then bake it in the oven to season the iron.

Well, there is a much easier way.

Secure a chunk of pure beeswax. Anything as long as it is pure and no paraffin. If you have a rusted up piece of cookware, take a wire brush to it and clean it off. You can also plop it is a campfire and burn the rust off. Just make sure you let it cool slowly so it does not crack.


Place your clean cast iron on a stove top burner. Turn the heat to low and start warming up the iron. As the iron heats up, the pores in the metal open up. Once it is warm enough to melt beeswax on contact, rub the iron inside and out with the beeswax.  You may wish to use a pair of leather gloves to minimize burning your self. You can also use a folded paper towel to rub the wax around. Let the cast iron cool.


You now have a super seasoned piece of cast iron. The seasoning will not go rancid as others do. It will not build up as is common. While I may wash it using soap, if I do, reseasoning is so easy.


Blacksmiths often use beeswax to finish iron. I can take a piece of iron finished in this way and leave it outside. It will often have no rust even after a year. Beeswax is a fat. There have been times when we are at reenactments and have needed fat to fry. We just cut off a piece of beeswax candle and have at it. You don’t have to worry about spilling oils.


When cleaning cast iron, I usually use hot to boiling water and no soap. Always dry off your cast iron. I do this by putting it on the heat for a bit, take it off the heat, and rub dry with a towel. Be careful not to burn yourself. It is good to use an old towel as some black may transfer from the iron to the towel. Once dry, I will heat it back up and rub the inside with beeswax. Remember, it does not build up. I keep a tightly folded paper towel that has had much use with beeswax to do this.


By Pete Avery

Brisket – the Northern Way

It had been about an hour since the brisket was placed on the stove when the smell of the maple and Greek seasonings started filling the cabin. After a couple of hours you may need to add liquid to the Dutch. We always have a pot of tea on the stove so I just pour a little in the Dutch. That’s called “Guy” cooking.

Cooked, sliced brisket on cutting boardGrowing up in rural Wisconsin, my folks did a bunch of cooking using a cast iron DUTCH OVEN. Food was cooked using the Dutch oven both in the oven as well as on top of the stove. When cooking on the stove top, one must put a cast iron trivet inside the Dutch. This was the original slow cooker.

The Dutch w/ trivet I use is Griswold Cast Iron. While Griswolds are no longer made, many antique stores carry them. They may also be found on eBay. Top of Griswold Dutch oven lid No 8, Tite-Top BasterIf unable to locate a Griswold, one can find the Wagner brand in the same locations. My cast iron is well seasoned. I will cover iron cookware seasoning in a separate discussion.

Our IGA in Grand Marais, MN has some great deals in the almost expired bin (also called the “dead meat bin”). When we hit the store, we check the dead meat bin for deals. A couple of days ago we found a nice chunk of brisket. We also found some Greek salad dressing in a sale cart.

We went home and I marinated the brisket in Greek salad dressing. To marinade the meat I put dressing both in the bottom of the container and on top of the meat. It was stored covered in the fridge for a couple of days.

Brisket Day arrived and 1/2 cup of maple whisky was put in the Dutch. The alcohol tenderizes the meat. Pure maple syrup can be used instead. The chunk of meat was placed on the trivet inside the Dutch with the whiskey. Place the meat fat side up so the moisture is maintained. Brisket on trivet inside dutch oven with Greek dressing on top of it and maple whiskey in the bottom of the DutchExtra Greek dressing was then poured over the meat. The container was rinsed with about 1/2 cup of water which was also poured into the Dutch. Nothing goes to waste.

The covered Dutch oven was placed on the wood stove running about a low medium heat. If using a gas or electric stove top, a low medium heat will work. Experiment with your stove. If using an oven, bake on 350 degrees. After a couple of hours you may need to add liquid to the Dutch. We always have a pot of tea on the stove so I just pour a little in the Dutch. That’s called “Guy” cooking.Brisket on trivet inside dutch oven with Greek dressing on top of it and maple whiskey in the bottom of the Dutch sitting on top of wood stove

As I began to write this, it had been about an hour since the brisket was placed on the stove when the smell of the maple and Greek seasonings started filling the cabin. As I looked out the window, the snow was coming down nice and heavy. What a wonderful environment for relaxing.

By Pete Avery

Note:  While it shows Cindy as the author it is really Pete, her husband.  It is still on Cindy’s list to figure out how to have guest author’s post.Brisket, green beans with onions, mashed potatoes and gravy on plateCooked brisket whole on plate

Cheese Curd Croissant Creation

We used a Dutch oven on top of a wood stove to bake this creation. This can be done in an oven or with a Dutch with coals from your campfire. Have fun making this dough creation with your own twists.

2 cheese curd croissants a metal pan sitting on a cutting boardDo you love bread and cheese? How about hot croissant with melted cheese curds inside? It is both easy and yummy to make a Cheese Curd Croissant Creation! Also, it is just the thing to go with a hot drink on a cold day.


– 1 tube of Pillsbury croissant dough
– Cheese curds that have lost their squeak


1. Crack open your tube of croissant dough. Take 2 pieces of the dough, keep them both flat and join 2 edges together by putting them edge to edge and pressing them together. If you have trouble with the edges not sticking together, use a bit of water on your finger tips as you press the two dough edges together. Use a rolling pin to flatten the dough a bit.

croissant dough on cutting board with cheese curds on 1/2 of dough and rolling pin off to the side

2. Add cheese curds that have lost their squeak to the center of the dough. Note: If your curds still squeak, enjoy eating them fresh!

3. Join the edges of your dough so you can create a sealed pocket or turnover. You want to seal the cheese inside the dough. part of hands folding over half of croissant dough and the cheese curds will be sealed dough pocketAnother way to do this is to put a piece of croissant dough on a flat surface, add the cheese, then put another dough piece on top of that. Seal all the edges by pinching them together.

Two cheese curd croissants in metal pan with Mullins Cheese curd bag in background.4. Bake your cheesy pockets till golden brown. We used a Dutch oven on top of a wood stove. Dutch oven on top of wood stoveThis can be done in an oven as well. Also, a Dutch oven could be used with coals from your campfire.


Chees Curd Croissants in pan inside dutch oven on top of wood stove. Croissants are golden brown.5. Prepare your beverage of choice to enjoy with your Cheese Curd Croissant Creation. Be sure to let the croissants cool a bit before eating as the cheese inside will be very hot and getting a burned tongue is not fun.

Other Pointers:

You can substitute any cheese you wish for the cheese curds. Try out combining flavors of cheeses. Consider adding a bit of spaghetti sauce and pepperoni with the cheese to fashion a pizza pocket.

Another idea would be to try canned biscuit dough which comes in a variety of flavors!

Have fun making this dough creation with your own twists. I’d love to hear what you tried. Feel free to share in the comments section.

Get Creative with Ingredients in Your Cupboard

We made a meal with oddball cupboard items using our wood stove, dutch oven and microwave. Breakfast for supper is great any time! See how we did it to get ideas for your unused food items.

Do you have those oddball food items in your pantry, cupboard or kitchen that you just never get around to using? Biscuit dough rolled on on cutting board with rolling pin Yup, we do too. Keep reading to see what items we had and how we used them. The goal is to spark ideas, encourage you to be creative and to jump in and have some fun!

Our oddball items were: one packet of milk pepper gravy mix, gluten free flour, and rye flour. The gravy mix was the driving force in deciding what was on the menu—biscuits and gravy. What goes great with biscuits and gravy? Eggs of course. Breakfast for supper became the goal!

My husband altered a favorite biscuit recipe that I had previously made. Since we didn’t have buttermilk, he substituted sour cream and mixed it with the milk. Your probably thinking, “yuck,” but we cook with a lot of powdered, dried, and freeze dried ingredients. He simply mixed Thrive Life powdered milk, Thrive Life powdered sour cream, and water in our Ninja blender for the liquid in the biscuits. It was an easy substitute. Here is Pete’s Biscuit Recipe:

About 1 1/2 c rye flour
About 1 1/2 c gluten-free flour
1/4 c maple syrup
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
About 3/4 c butter, melted
About 1/2 c milk & sour cream mixture

Note that he “Guy” cooks with ingredients being measured in “about” quantities. You’ll feel like your on an adventure if you’ve never cooked like this!

Mix all the biscuit ingredients, roll out on a flat surface to desired thickness, and cut in desired shape. He used a mason jar cause it was round and handy.Mason jar being used to cut biscuit dough into circles on cutting board Do be aware that baking with gluten free flour is very different than gluten flour. You get different textures and may need different liquid amounts than you normally use in a recipe—remember the adventure! This recipe has 50% gluten and 50% gluten-free flours in it. Put the biscuits in a buttered pan.

Bake the biscuits at 350 degrees till done. Pete used a Dutch Oven on top of our wood stove because we don’t have an oven at our cabin. He checked the biscuits about every 15 minutes until they were done. It took about an hour on medium heat to bake them.Four biscuits in terra cotta pan sitting on cutting board with rolling pin next to it

Using the wood stove to cook or bake is taking advantage of “free” energy since we are already using it to heat the cabin. You could say we are upcycling the radiant heat to efficiently cook our food. Also, there was leftover biscuit dough that will be refrigerated and used another time. We’ll decide how many biscuits to bake and roll the dough to cut out that many to bake for a meal till the dough is gone.

Wood stove top with pan of gravy and Dutch oven with biscuits on it.

The gravy was easy. Just follow the directions on the package and make it. Again, he used powdered milk. Another reason to cook with powdered milk is you make it as you need it. The milk isn’t taking up refrigerator space or spoiling. He also added Thrive Life pre-cooked, seasoned ground beef for a meat in the gravy. We were out of the Thrive Life sausage crumbles. Both are delicious.

Scrambled eggs just go with biscuit & gravy! Again, we used Thrive Life freeze dried foods. Their scrambled egg mix is delicious—and I don’t say that lightly. I’ve eaten some pretty nasty dried eggs before. These are fabulous. I get to take credit for cooking the eggs. Since the stove stop space was all taken, I tried cooking them in the microwave for the first time. It worked great. Pete mixed the freeze dried eggs with water and added freeze dried mushrooms and onions. Here are a couple of pictures during the microwaving process:

Partially microwaved scrambled eggs in a dish

Cooking times and power settings were:
1 minute on power 4
2 minutes on power 5
Use a spoon to break up cooked eggs into chunks
1 1/2 minutes on power 5
Again, break up the eggs into chunksMicrowaved scrambled eggs in a dish

We waited to complete the eggs till the biscuits were done. We then nuked the eggs for 30 seconds on power 5. They turned out great! If you try this, please note that you may need additional 1 or 2 minutes cook times on a low power setting. It is better to undercook the eggs because you can always cook them a tad longer to get them where you want them.

Biscuit with jelly and gravy on top along with scrambled eggs on a plateBiscuits & gravy aren’t complete without jelly! Top the biscuits with jelly, add gravy and eggs, say grace, and enjoy.

The biscuits had a good flavor but were very crumbly due to the gluten-free flour. They did carry the maple flavor from the maple syrup.

What ingredients do you have sitting in your cupboard waiting to be used? Take a peek and get creative. Feel free to share what you made in the comments section.

And now for the shameless plug—Pete and I are consultants for Thrive Life freeze dried foods because it fits our lifestyle and the foods taste great. Feel free to check it out at our website, CanoeCountryFood.ThriveLife.com. Also, feel free to contact me with questions you may have about Thrive Life and using freeze dried foods.

Historic Tiny Texas Jail

We love discovering “old stuff” that has some history behind it. This tiny Texas Jail in Bedias is one of many throughout Texas.

Bedias Jail picture
Do you ever just enjoy driving around to see what you can find? We do and as we were driving through Texas, we tripped across this small primitive jail. We love discovering “old stuff” that has some history behind it. Wanting to share this find with you, I took some pictures.

Bedias Jail plaque
It didn’t take too much googling to find a lot of information about the Bedias Jail. There is a website/blog tinytexasjails.com dedicated to documenting these tiny jails or calabooses all around Texas. William E. Moore is the author and a professional arachaeologist. There is detailed information on this website organized by county. Loads of reading and learning await you!

What interesting, out of the way historic sites have you tripped across?

Why I Love Using Freeze Dried Foods

These freeze dried foods taste great! The foods are flash frozen within hours of harvest which locks in the nutrients and flavor. Freeze dried foods have a long shelf life. They are great for daily or emergency use as well as camping and backpacking needs.

While searching “food” on Craig’s List to figure out how to let folks know about Thrive Life freeze dried foods, Pete found a listing for a Chocolate Lab. Aren’t search engines interesting? While we don’t have chocolate labs or even chocolate bunnies, we do have pulled pork, chicken, beef, and a variety of vegetables and fruits that are to die for. Keep reading and I’ll tell you why we like using freeze dried foods.

Convenience-I don’t peel onions or chop celery. I just open my can of freeze dried veggies, scoop out what I need and add to my recipe.

Various cans of Thrive Life freeze dried foods

Saving money-I don’t often have to run to the store for forgotten ingredients. I just go to my pantry and use what I have. While this takes a bit of planning to stock my pantry with freeze dried foods I will use, I save time and gas. Also, I don’t throw away spoiled vegetables or fruits I forgot to use because I use what I need when I need it.  Foods I love for this are: mushrooms, onions, celery, strawberries and mangoes.

Health-I love, love, love the taste of the sweet cherries, strawberries, and mangoes. We use these in our morning protein shakes. These taste great as a quick snack or dessert too! Another benefit, freeze dried foods have great nutrient density.

Taste-These freeze dried foods taste great! The foods are flash frozen within hours of harvest which locks in the nutrients and flavor. I have eaten some nasty tasting dried scrambled egg food product before. Let me tell you, the Thrive Life scrambled egg mix tastes great and is a quick meal fix. We add mushrooms and onions to it and have an easy meal in minutes. It is harder to use this for an omelet but great for scrambled.

Storage-Less leftovers in the fridge cause we use it as we need it. Freeze dried foods have a long shelf life. They are great for both daily or emergency use as well as camping and backpacking needs.

Have I  caught your interest yet! There are some great recipes on our website. Just clip on the recipes link in the previous sentence to check them out.  Feel free to explore the catalog of food choices.

Not sure what to try first?  My suggestion would be to pick out one from each of the following categories and begin adding to your favorite recipes.  You can order in the pantry can (smaller) or family size can (larger) sizes.  Pick what works for your needs.  Be sure to check out the monthly specials.  Also, there are gluten free and non-GMO choices.

Fruits:  strawberries, mangoes, sweet cherries

Vegetables:  onions, mushrooms, celery

Protein:  refried beans, pulled pork, scrambled egg mix

Here’s to convenience, savings, and health!  What have been your experiences with freeze dried or emergency foods?