Friday, December 29, 2006

Sausage Making: Round 2

It's Friday evening and for once I seem to be right on schedule for my plans in the kitchen. Today was round two of my efforts to make home made sausage. And, I am pleased to announce that not only did I complete the sausage as planned but PeterC had enough ground meat left over to make a really nice meatloaf for dinner.

I decided to try strips of meat rather than chunks. The corkscrew in the grinder would grab the strip and pull it in at the right speed. Not once did the meat get bound up and the grinding seemed to go much more smoothly.

Rather than seasoning the meat before grinding, we seasoned it after grinding much the same as you would when making a meatloaf. We measured the spices out and sprinkled them on top of the bowl of ground meat, then we mixed the meat and spices together by folding and then kneading it in the bowl.

We formed the sausage into the desired packaging. Some we made into patties while others we made into packages for adding to lasagna or evening frying up and crumbling over pizza. As with our first attempt on Wednesday, we followed the advice of those more experienced and gave the meat a taste test before we finished packaging it up and putting it into the freezer. This was an Italian blend and was by far the favourite of both of us.

We decided a nice pepperoni made from the beef was a great idea. We bought our Morton's Tender Quick Salt from Sharyn's Pantry and the gentleman behind the counter was kind enough to share Sharyn's own recipe for pepperoni with us. Much like the Italian Sausage, we ground the meat and mixed the spices with the freshly ground meat. In the end, this is a 5 day process so the spiced meat is sitting in the refrigerator curing like the recipe says. Once it is all cured it will be baked in the oven or possibly put in the smoker for 9 hours to cook fully.

So now we have 12 lbs. of pork sausage in the freezer and 6 lbs. of pepperoni curing in the fridge. If this experiment so well then I may just start making fresh sausage and my own hamburger meat. It may not be any cheaper and may be labour intensive, but in the end I control the quality of my sausage. I know what's in it and I know exactly how it is made.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Home Made Sausage

Like every new adventure here at Sparrow Haven, our most recent started off a little rocky.

I got the bright idea to make sausage with my new electric meat grinder, so I bought 15 lbs. of pork butt and 10 lbs. of cheap roast. I figured I could get all the meat ground and seasoned in a couple of hours. There is a learning curve on every new skill and sausage making was no exception.

I looked through all my favourite recipe sites and cookbooks and chose four recipes. I chose Breakfast sausage, Spicy Italian Sausage, Summer Sausage, and Kielbasa sausage all from Recipe'zaar. I had pulled all the meat out the day before so I was ready to go as soon as we got home from town. I was ready, or at lest I thought I was.

We got a later start than expected due to some trouble with the vehicle. It was almost 2 pm before I pulled the grinder out of its box and read all the directions. I cut the meat into 1 inch chunks and mixed the spices with the chunks of meat, as the directions for the grinder required. I slowly fed the meat into the grinder, which was much louder than expected, and watched as the ground meat came out the other end.

Before I started this project I had had enough sense to check with my friends over on Homesteading today to get tips and hints on making sausage. One of those tips was to cook up small patties as sample batches to test the spices. Boy, am I glad I did. the recipe I used sounded like it was spicy enough but after cooking some up we found it rather bland so more spices were added, and then some more, and then even more. Finally we had a breakfast sausage that both I and PeterC thought we would enjoy.

We made 24 patties and put the rest away into 1 lb chubs to be used for gravy. We finished that and I was ready to start the Italian when PeterC noticed it was almost 6 pm. We had worked right through to supper time, a total of 4 hours, and had only managed to make a single type of sausage and not very much of that even. So, with quite a bit of disappointment, we cleaned up the mess in the kitchen and resolved to do better on Friday.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Snow Day

We woke up a little later than planned this morning but we woke to a wonderful site. It finally started snowing. Mother Nature didn't hold out for 2007 like I was afraid she was going to do. It was so lovely, all the sounds of the highway and front road traffic damped down to almost nothing.

PeterC took the dogs for the morning walk and snapped a few pictures along the way. He even took one that I hope to use as our Christmas Card photos next year. The snow is a very heavy wet snow, perfect for snowball fights and snowman building. It'll stick to anything, especially the limbs of the trees.

For those who don't get to see snow, or who love it as much as I do, here are some Snow Day pictures for you.

Dunny loves snow as much as I do, but Muffet could leave it. I think she would be happy living in Florida.

The side yard and bird feeders covered in snow. It's so pretty like this.

The back yard under the trees. Snow covers up the damage from storms and gives the yard a pristeen look.

Holiday Card Perfect.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Making Sauerkraut II

The sauerkraut and the fermented vegetables have been sitting in the mudroom, the small 9 x 9 room attached to the back door, fermenting away in their crocks. It's been 8 weeks since I started the sauerkraut and 7 for the vegetables. The bubbles of gas have died down so it is time to can them for later use.

While the jars were in the canner covered with boiling water to sterilize them, we poured the kraut into the maslin pan and brought it to a simmer. We let it simmer for a few minutes to make sure it was good and hot and then we packed it into our jars. We decided to use pint and a half jars since we had seven. The eighth jar was a quart jar.

We filled each jar with kraut, packed it down, poured juice to cover, released the bubbles, and finally wiped the rims sealed with lids and pressure canned for 15 minutes at 5 lbs. We had a little left over that PeterC ate and found quite tasty.

We repeated the process for the fermented vegetables. In the end we have eight jars of sauerkraut and twelve pints of fermented vegetables. I've already been told that we will be doing another batch of kraut soon, so PeterC must have really enjoyed the leftovers.

Christmas Eve

Yesterday was both happy and bittersweet. We got up late and headed in to our favourite truck stop for breakfast. We relaxed, secure in the knowledge that even though we planned to have food available no guests would be arriving today. We were going to take it easy and make it an easy going kind of day.

When we arrived back home I began preparing the food trays while PeterC did touch up vacuuming and garbage round up. I had just started the vegetable tray when PeterC informed me we had a message. It was from a coworker. She was bringing her spouse and children over for an early afternoon visit. I explained that the food trays would still be in preparation but she didn't care. They had eaten and were coming to visit us.

I put the Wassail into the crock pot to simmer while we prepped the food trays as quickly as we could, fighting pets and each other for space. The doorbell rang just as I had begun to cut the firm cheeses into chunks. My coworker and her family arrived bearing gifts, a lovely bottle of wine, but the most beautiful gift of all which was Holiday Cheer, Laughter, and Friendship.

They were content to stand around the table while we completed the cheese tray and laid out crackers and spreadable cheese. They agreed to having photos taken, asking for copies to be sent to them when we got a chance. They chatted and teased and we right along with them. It was the perfect Christmas Eve.

But, when they had gone for the evening and the house was silent I began thinking of Christmas past. The huge potluck meals my family in Tennessee would be serving up. I felt lonely. For the first time Sparrow Haven had rung with the sound of good natured holiday cheer that only a family can bring. Family that lived to far away or who otherwise could not be here.

I sat in my chair and watched the fire burn down. Content to just sit and be quiet. The cats and dogs slept in their corners, one taking residence upon my lap. Finally, when I could bear the silence no more and it was obvious no other guests would appear at the door, we put away the food and cleaned up the dishes.

We went upstairs to watch TV and get ready for bed, but all I could think about was how perfect this Christmas Eve had been. All it had taken was for one family, just four people, to share our home and our hospitality. To bring their love for each other and their loving laughter, to make the evening shine above all others in my memory.

Happy Holidays everyone. I hope your day is filled with love and laughter as our Christmas Eve was.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Twas the Night before Christmas Eve....

Twas the Day before Christmas Eve, and all through the house such a flurry of activity; why even the mice.
Litter boxes were bleached; carpets cleaned; and the wood was all polished in hopes that visitors would appear.
The kitchen gleamed and smelled of spice, Momma in her most festive mood yet.
Cheeses were cut, and meats rolled, bread cut in triangles, and creamed cheese laid plain.
Music blared on our PC speakers as Papa hurried and scurried about.

In the end the house was all cleaned and the house was silent.
Even the kittens were worn out from the days activities.
I in my pyjamas and Papa in his chair, settled down to ring in the Holiday.
The food is all ready and the house is too.
In hopes that Holiday Visitors stop to bring along some cheer.

Happy Holidays - Christmas, Yule, Solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, FrostFall, and All other Mid Winter Festivals - to one and all.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Calendar Must be Wrong

I looked at the calendar this morning and saw that it is Dec 17th. I looked out the window and saw a lovely blue sky, and grass. I shrugged and thought to myself "Self, winter many times has no snow on the ground until just before Christmas. Let's just go out and enjoy a clear winter day."

So I shook myself off a little, those dust bunnies were beginning to gather on my pyjama hems, and got dressed in my best winter attire. I traipsed down the stairs and threw open the door to take a nice deep breath of good clean chill air. I promptly began choking.

The air was warm and moist, more like late spring and early winter. There were birds every where, but especially filling the hedge and covering the bird feeders filled the day before. I stumbled around outside for a bit, trying to get my bearings then it struck me. "Wham!" "Ow! Hey wait. Someone must have forget to flip the calendar and I slept through the winter like some brain dead armadillo. Boy is my boss gonna be mad."

Since I had hit upon the problem I dreamily went back inside, stripped off my coat and shoes, and wondered lazily into the kitchen. There I stared dumbfounded at the kitchen calendar. It also said it was Dec 17th. "What in the world?", I thought to myself and I went in search of the den calendar. It was hiding under the desk, but it too said Dec 17th.

I sat with a thump and "Raaaaooowllll! Hhhissssss" "Sorry Booboo", and stared at my computer screen. Here is my access to the truth. I can look on line and find out if there is some conspiracy with the calendars. So I booted up my PC, noticed that it to reported Dec 17th, and started looking on the Internet for some answers. I found my answers but I wish I could go back to bed and just forget what I read.

The world's climate is changing. The weather patterns are all messed up. We here are getting warmer, wetter, and windier. The rest of the world is seeing changes that could be just as severe. Places that used to have mild winters are now getting severe winter storms. Farms are being infested with bugs that are living through the winter rather than dying off. The ground and everything else is covered in mold because it is so wet. Entire ecosystems are changing.

Life is great at adapting to change but only if those changes happen slowly over a period of years. It becomes harder to adapt when changes are happening so quickly. Some people are celebrating the warmer temperatures but they don't grow their food. They buy it from the store. Will they be so happy when entire crops are lost to disease, bugs, and mold and the price skyrockets? Or worse yet, what will those people say when there is a shortage of food?

So now, I am going to turn off the computer and crawl back into bed. I hope when I wake up tomorrow I'll find out this is all just a bad dream. But when it turns out that it isn't, then I will do what I have always done. I will adapt as best I can to the changes around me and in the mean time I sure am glad I know how to grow my own food.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Chicken Stew

Whenever I bake a chicken, we always have leftovers. At least three portions of the leftovers go in the freezer for later meals. It gets used in everything from chicken fajitas to chicken fried rice. We've even been known to chop it up and throw it in our Sunday morning omelet.

As I mentioned in my previous post I've been sick for the last week. Even with lots of rest I hadn't been able to shake this stupid cold. Sunday, in desperation to find something to restore my energy and bolster my immune system I turned to good old fashioned Chicken Stew. Just the smell of it cooking was enough to revive me a little.

Old Fashioned Chicken Stew
1-2cps cooked chicken diced into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cps diced carrots
2 cps diced potatoes
3/4 cp frozen or fresh peas
1/2 large onion diced
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 cp chicken broth
2 Tbsp dried parsley or tarragon
2 tsp each garlic powder, salt, black pepper or each to taste
2 Tbsp flour

Heat oil in large stock pot.
Add onion and cook until soft.
Add chicken and all spices and stir well, heating chicken through.
Add carrots, potatoes, and peas stirring the mixture thoroughly.
Pour in broth and heat to boiling. Lower heat, cover, and simmer until vegetables are tender.
Stir in the flour and return to boiling until broth starts to thicken. Remove from heat and serve.

Today we finished off the rest of the stew and I feel better than I have since last week. My mind is clear. I can breathe through my nose. And miracles of miracles my ears are unplugged and I can actually hear what people are saying to me.

What could possibly be better than a bowl of fresh hot chicken stew? Chicken stew is easy to make and is a great way to use leftover chicken. Once you put everything in the pot it can be ignored, if you can ignore such a wonderful smell. It is a delicious and nutritious addition to your regular diet and a soothing meal for when you are ill. When you have a cold that you just can't shake chicken stew beats chicken noodle soup any day of the week.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Slow Week

It has been a slow week here at Sparrow Haven. PeterC and I have both been sick. The weather has been uncooperative with doing anything outside. Even the birds that stay here year round have been lying low and keeping quiet.

I am not the easiest person to get along with when I am sick. I become withdrawn and introspective, wanting nothing more than a warm blanket and a dark room. I am not generally considered a social person but during illnesses, regardless of how mild it may be, I drop down in a deep funk and just pass through the world rather than being a part of it. PeterC understands this about me and just checks in every once in a while to make sure I am still breathing, but otherwise leaves me to my thoughts.

It is at the end of times like this that I have a renewed appreciation for many things in my life. I appreciate PeterC's devotion to me and to our family. I appreciate the unconditional love of the cats and dogs, and even their selfish need to be as near to me as possible thus creating the perfect hot water bottles. I appreciate the feather comforter that keeps us warm even on the coldest nights. And most of all I appreciate the fact that I have a roof over my head and the means to be sick in luxury. I am rich compared to so many others in this world.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Wind Storm

I've always heard that any storm that blows in from the east brings wind and destruction. It's one of those old wives tales you hear and repeat but not actually believe until you see it. then you are reminded that most old wives tales are little bits of wisdom from people who have seen a lot in their years.

Yesterday, the wind was coming out of the east bringing with it rain and freezing rain. The wind was gusting hard enough to make it difficult for me to stand. Ice built up on the car antennas and the branches of the trees. Even before I left for work I suspected we would see downed trees but I wasn't expected one of them to be our own.

PeterC had stayed home from work to recover from a rather nasty bout with the flu, but had driven me to work in case the roads turned icy. About a half hour before he came to pick me up he called to tell me that one of the 50 ft spruce in the backyard had been blown over, onto the dog's kennel. Dunny was fine, if scared, but the kennel itself was bent pretty badly and the only thing keeping the tree from taking out the neighbours kitchen was the fact that the tree was laying on the doghouse and leaning into one of the other trees.

We called Dale at "Tree Service" out of Green Valley, who said he would call us back today. Sure enough, at 10am, we got a call saying he would be here soon. Within an hour he and his two man work crew were scrambling all over the tree and removing it in sections. The tree was not rotten or even dying but the ground was so soggy from the rain that the roots just couldn't hold on any longer. While removing the tree PeterC and Dale noticed a couple more trees who are starting to lean pretty badly. Dale was to busy to remove them today but he said to watch them and if they get worse, or fall, he'll be more than happy to come back and remove them.

As scary as it was thinking that the tree could have hurt Dunny or fallen on the neighbours house, there are a few positives to come out of yesterday's storm. Now we have a pile of wood to be used for bonfires next year, a pile of branches to burn, and a 10 ft Christmas tree that we have placed out by the road for anyone who wants to take it. The removal of this tree has also opened up the area around our old apple tree so maybe it will get more sunlight and respond by giving us a good crop of apples next year.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Winter Holidays

Every year the stores ramp up their Christmas advertising earlier and earlier. Most stores start putting out their Christmas displays as soon as Halloween was over, but a few began putting them out as early as Thanksgiving this year. It is rampant commercialism at its worst and carried out with the tide are those people who have become convinced that they can't live without that one gadget or gizmo or who believe that happiness can only be found at the top of a mound of debt.

We are no better off than any other family in this respect. When the holidays roll around we too rush out to the local mall and spend more than we can afford on gadgets that will only be used on occasion, if at all. We have allowed ourselves to be persuaded that we can not be happy unless we have a house full of useless clutter. That is until this year.

This year we decided that the holidays will not revolve around expensive toys with little intrinsic value. This year our holiday celebrations will revolve around family and friends, feasting, and helping those who can not help themselves. We are going to donate food to the Food Bank, participate in the Angel Tree program, and donate needed items to the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. We'll even add a donation to the Canadian Wildlife Federation if finances allow.

On December 24th we are going to turn off the computers, light a fire in the wood stove, and layout a small table of pickles, relishes, homemade breads, vegetables, and meats. We will sit in front the of the fire and enjoy the companionship of each other and our animal children. We will Celebrate the Season in quiet contemplation of our place in the world and plans for the future.

Should any visitors come to our door they will be given food and something warm to drink and made welcome to sit in front of the fire and share our bounty. That is Our Reason for the Season.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Coconut Rice

As much as I love to cook, sometimes it is wonderful to have a simple yet tasty meal for supper instead of a plate of meat and vegetables. My most recent attempt was based on a show called Feast India and was called Coconut Rice. Like most spur of the moment meals I didn't have all the ingredients so I made it up as I went. It turned out very well indeed.

Coconut Rice
2 cps Cooked rice (Jasmine is good)
1/2 cp coconut flakes
1 cup finely diced red onion
chopped green chilies to taste
1/4 cp fresh chopped coriander
dash of olive oil
salt to taste

In a dry round bottom skillet stir the coconut flakes until brown. Keep them moving or they will burn. After the coconut is browned add the onions and stir until the onion starts to soften. Add the rice and mix well, stirring constantly. Add the chilies and oil, mixing thoroughly then add the salt. Just before you serve add the fresh coriander and mix again.

The rice has a very delicate coconut taste and the chilies give it a bit of heat. This makes a great meal by itself or it can be served as a side dish for any meal. The green and white make a very striking dish that will compliment any table setting.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Acorn Whistles

When you grow up on a farm or homestead you learn so many things that become so second nature that you just can't remember not knowing how to do them. One of the many things I learned, at least I assume I learned it, as a child is using acorn caps to make a whistle.

Like so many things in life, I took that knowledge for granted and assumed that everyone knew how to do this. Imagine my surprise when I found that not one of my coworkers knew how to do it. I spent a week teaching one after another to make the whistles, having quite a laugh at their initial efforts, until in the end each one could make a sound as loud and clear as my acorn cap whistle.

Acorn caps make a loud shrill sound, and if lost in the woods, the sound will carry farther than the standard search and rescue whistle. Caps are relatively easy to locate in areas with oak trees and best of all they are free. Most acorn caps will last a few months if carried all the time, unless efforts are made to preserve them. I've never preserved mine so I'm not sure how the preservative will change the sound.

When choosing an acorn cap one should choose a cap that is of a size easy enough to hold, strong, with a relatively smooth and level rim. A cap that is no bigger than a quarter but larger than a dime are the easiest to hold and work with. A nice deep cap will give maximum sound.

Holding the cap is the hardest part of this backwoods toy to master. First you have to hold the cap so that it is supported on both sides by the index fingers of both your hands. Next, fold your thumbs over to hold the cap in place against your index fingers. Now, and this is where it takes some practice. Bring the base of your thumbs together so that they are snug against each other from the first to the second knuckles. Now, bring the tips of your thumbs away from each other slightly so you can see a V shaped section of the acorn cap. Some people's thumbs naturally take on this position when holding something small, others have to learn how to hold the cap without smashing it to bits.

Once you've mastered the hold, the whistle itself is easy. You place you lower lip firmly against you thumb, just below the knuckles. Purse your upper lip and blow gently into the V shape between your thumbs. If you here a soft whistle that is breathy sounding, then the V shape is to big. If no sound at all comes out then the V shape is to small. Reposition your thumbs and try again. Once you can get the cap to whistle you can alter the volume by blowing harder or softer.

And there you have it. You can now wow your family and friends with this neat little toy, and you just might be able to save your life some day should you ever wander off the beaten path.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Home Made Sauerkraut

Today, I decided to jump off the deep end and give real home made sauerkraut a try. Actually I decided to give it a try a month ago when I made my last visit of the year to Upper Canada Village. They had the tools set out for people to see and even had a little bit of cabbage cut into strips. So I made a list of the tools required and started researching recipes on Homesteading Today and other online recipe sites.

I went to Berry Hill and found the perfect crock for making sauerkraut. It's ceramic, glazed on the outside and stoneware on the inside, and will hold 3 gallons of liquid. They had several sizes available but they were all either to big or to small. This one was just right. I also ordered a cabbage slicer but it is on backorder.

The crock arrived Tuesday in the mail and I had been informed that making kraut was the easiest thing in the world was so I was eager to give it a try cabbage slicer or no. Friday, I bought 10 pounds of cabbage on the way home from work with every intention of starting the sauerkraut on Saturday. Chores got in the way so it wasn't until this morning that I finally took the plunge.

I washed the crock with hot soapy water, washed my cabbage, and pulled out my pickling salt. I sliced the cabbage as thin as I could using my knife and mixed 2 Tbsp of salt with each 2.5 pounds of sliced cabbage. I layered it into the crock and let it sit to form a brine. I then covered the crock and placed it in the coolest part of the house. In six weeks I'll know whether I made good sauerkraut or a slimy mess. I'll keep every informed as the process works.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

It was a Dark and Stormy night....

The wind wailed like a banshee through the cedar hedge as ghost, goblins, witches, and ghouls walked the world looking for yummy treats. The pumpkin was lit from within, his ghastly grin facing whatever may brave the ringing of the bell. A happy yell of Trick or Treat, or a shriek and a giggle as the fear became unbearable, heralded their arrival.

The treats are all gone, the lights extinguished. The streets are quiet and dark. Now is the time for the Samhain bonfire and the talk of the loved ones long gone. The feast has been eaten and glasses raised, celebrations have come to an end. The world grows a little darker as the bonfire dies down and people start thinking of warm beds and loved ones still alive. The New Year has begun and life must go on.

Happy Halloween and a Blessed Samhain.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Introducing BooBoo, Assistant Carpenter

I'm a cat person and Sparrow Haven has become an unofficial, if small, cat rescue. When we arrived at Sparrow Haven we had three cats, two we had raised from kittenhood and another we rescued from the streets of Edmonton, Alberta. Now we share our house with ten cats in total, most of whom have been rescued in some form or another.

One of our most recent rescues is Booboo. He was born a barn cat, and was the only surviving male of 18 kittens. I took him and one of his half sisters in when the farmer threatened to drown them. He was a beautiful black and white cat and I tried to name him Checkers. The name just didn't seem right and so I kept looking. He discovered the upstairs banister at about the same time I discovered that he had no sense of balance. After the third fall from the banister upstairs to the first floor, we realized we would never be able to call him anything other than Booboo.

Like most barncats, that have not been handled, Booboo and his sister were both very wild when we got them at six weeks, running for cover at the slightest sound or move on our part. As they have aged they have become less the wild barncats and more the timid housecats. Cassie, Boo's sister is still quite skittish at times but loves to sneak into my lap while I watch TV. She then kneads my stomach, purrs loudly, and occasionally drools on my arm.

Booboo hates to be held but is otherwise much less skittish and more affectionate than his sister. He greets us at the door with loud, plaintive cries demanding attention and tummy rubs. He'll arch his back if we even think about bending over to pet him, and usually in the process falls over on his side with a loud thump. Yep, he is still clumsy but thankfully he doesn't climb on the banister upstairs anymore.

This weekend we bought a large chef's table for the kitchen that had to be assembled. I decided sooner was better than later. Well Booboo decided he wanted to help. He inspected every single piece of wood as I removed it from the shipping carton, even climbing into the assembled top to give a full and proper inspection to the joints and drawer slides.

While I was screwing the pieces together he made sure that my spacing and alignment were to his exact specifications, even going so far as to move the boards if they weren't to his satisfaction. Considering some of the layouts he came up with, I wonder if he can see in a straight line. If not, that may explain why he can't walk a straight line and he falls over all the time.

Of course, like most cats, Booboo has a very short attention span. After all the hard work of arranging boards and telling me how to assemble the table what more can an overworked kitty do but take a nap. He tried to keep an eye on me, to make sure I wasn't goofing off, but like most overlords, he soon found himself unable to stay awake as his minion slaved on. Bless his little heart.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The End of the Garden

I always get melancholy at the end of the growing season. So much work and effort goes into growing a decent vegetable garden, with mixed results and questionable success. It's hard to see Mother Nature come along and destroy it all with the smallest of efforts on her part.

Friday evening we got a surprise dump of snow. It piled up three or four inches deep and was coming down so hard that we could barely see a few feet ahead of us. By the time we got home and unleaded the truck, the snow had started to melt. Unfortunately, the damage was done.

All the pumpkin leaves are broken and laying on the ground, the fruit still green instead of brilliant orange. The pepper plants are all wilted and the dozens of tiny peppers turned to mush by the snap cold. The squash faired little better than the pumpkin, with mounds of tiny squash turned to so much compost.

But, with the end of this growing season so the planning for next years has begun. I've drawn layouts of the raised beds, decided on what vegetables to grow, and have even taken a loose inventory of left over seeds. So the circle continues; I plant, nurture, grow, harvest, and eat only to start over again the following year. But each successful growing year I feed myself and others, and I know that if it comes right down to it I can feed my family from my small garden.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Lazy Day

It's been wet with a cold wind blowing across the world this weekend. I find myself feeling lazy, drowsy, and in no hurry to accomplish anything at all. The extent of my work has been to wash a couple loads of laundry, cook a roast and vegetables, and just today took a few minutes to pull the dead beans and squash out of the garden.

We spent a couple of hours taking a long Sunday morning drive, looking at the changing leaves, seeing farms and homes decked out in Halloween colours, and in general talking about our plans for the future. As much as we love Sparrow Haven we also want a large lot of land to raise chickens, have a cow or two, and plant an orchard and a nice big garden. We'd also like to have some wooded land so we can harvest our own firewood every fall, rather than relying on local sellers to have some available.

As I write this entry I look outside the window and watch the rain heavy clouds gather and think how wonderful it is to be able to relax in front of the fire and talk to my beloved. We share our hopes and dreams and make plans both short and long term. We plan out the garden for next year and discuss which building projects we want to get done and which can wait. We enjoy the company of our children, all four footed and furry.

The fall is a truly blessed time for us. A time for looking behind to understand our mistakes, and a time for looking ahead to where we want to be tomorrow, next year, five years, and even further ahead than that. It is a time to put aside the toys of summer and prepare for the winter. It is a season for review, last minute preparations, and like today, it is a season to rest and relax.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Day of Thanks

Monday is Thanksgiving Day here in Canada. It is a day for feasting, family, and relaxation for most people and a day to give thanks for some. It's quite common to see entire families sit down to their meal and say a prayer to their preferred Supreme Being. Others will spend an entire day in quiet contemplation.

At Sparrow Haven we spend the day cooking a nice, though not elaborate, meal and just enjoying each others company. I am thankful on all days but Thanksgiving is a day set aside for giving thanks. So during the hustle and bustle in the kitchen I always find some part of my mind thinking about all the things I am thankful for. When I do this, a kind of peace comes over me and I feel more compassion for my fellow man and all the other beings that share this wonderful world with us.

What are you thankful for?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Breakfast Breads

I love trying new foods especially breads. I'll taste them two or three times and then try to replicate the recipe at home. Most of the time I don't actually come anywhere near the product I was trying to make but I almost always create something that tastes good and is more nutritious because I use wholesome ingredients.

The most recent experiments have been trying to recreate Dempsters' Breakfast Pitas. They are a 4 inch round of soft, chewy dough, with different flavors like Muslix, Whole Grain, and Cinnamon Raisin. I've been trying on and off all year to create something similar so we can have them for breaks at work and evening snacks.

Today, I finally made a recipe that is very similar to the breakfast pitas. I took a recipe for Greek flatbread off of and altered it by adding the flavorings I think Dempsters uses. Even though they weren't exactly like the pitas from the store they turned out quite good.

7 Grain Apple Cinnamon Pitas
4 cps white flour (I used unbleached white)
1 packet yeast (2 1/4 tsp if you have it in bulk)
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 cp warm water
1/2 cp apple pie filling
1/4 cp crushed nuts (I used walnuts)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 cp Red River cereal or other 7 grain cereal mix

1) Mix flour, salt, yeast, and cereal in a large bowl.
2) Mix water, apple jam, and oil in a cup stirring until jam is dissolved.
3) Make a cavity in the centre of the flour mix and add the liquid mix.
4) Slowly mix the two until you get a soft dough. Dough should not be overly sticky.
5) Place on a floured surface and need until smooth, about 5 minutes.
6) Shape into a ball, brush with a little extra oil, cover and let rise until double.
7) Knead for a couple of minutes and cut into 12 equal pieces. Roll these pieces into balls and place on a greased cookie sheet. Cover and set aside until they double again.
8) Roll each dough ball out to about 5 inches across and 1/8 inch thick.
9) Place 1 layer on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.
10) Preheat oven to 475F. Brush pita surface with water and bake for 5 minutes. Pitas should be firm, not hard. Insides should be fully cooked and soft.

To serve, simply toast them in a toaster or brush with oil and toast in a skillet.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Fall Blahs

I love fall. The colours, the smell, the cooler nights, and even the rains. But at the same time I always get kind of blah this time of year. It doesn't happen every day but when it does happen it seems to last for several days at a time. I've wondered if it was related to the lower amounts of sunlight or maybe even an allergic reaction to pollen and dust in the air.

Today, at work, someone asked me what my plans for the weekend were but for the life of me I couldn't think of anything to say. I didn't have any plans for this weekend. Usually I have a task list ready by the middle of the week to make sure we get everything done over the weekend. But not this weekend.

All the canning is done until later when the pumpkins are ripe. The garden has slowed down so that I can wait two weeks between harvesting and even then I don't get much. We don't hunt and even if we did we don't have room in the freezer for any more meat. The wood is stacked and the indoor frame has been brought in and filled with wood. It's been raining this week so the outside wood can't be covered yet. And, the holidays are to far away to start baking and getting ready for them.

I thought about it for awhile and suddenly it dawned on me. The reason I get the blahs this time of year is because for the months of August and September I work feverishly to get all the food processed and stored away for winter, then suddenly the work is done. There is no speed up and slow down period. It is full speed ahead and WHAM! all stop just like that.

So for the next two weeks I'll wonder around the house on the weekends trying to figure out something that needs to be done, all the while ignoring the one thing I truly wish I could do. I wish I could relax but I'm not created that way. I always have to be busy and have some purpose in life. I think I'll take up painting and sewing again. It may not help with the fall blahs, but the winter dumps will be here to soon and in the cold nights the dumps can be more frightening than the blahs.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


My first introduction to pierogies was during my first visit with PeterC in Alberta. Pierogies, pronounced "pe-ro-gezes", are dumplings usually made with a mashed potato filling. A little research online and you will find recipes for meat fillings, sauerkraut fillings, and even fruit fillings. You can find pierogies in almost every Canadian grocery store in the frozen food section but invariable they will be made with mashed potatoes with a mix of bacon, cheese, sour cream, and onions.

The Ukrainian pioneers moved west into Saskatchewan and Alberta bringing with them many of their foods and customs. One of those foods is the pierogi. It has become such an enduring part of Alberta and Saskatchewan culture that everyone from those two provinces, even those not of Ukrainian descent, know what a pierogi is and have more then likely eaten them at least once in their life.

We lived in Alberta for ten years after we were married and pierogies were a staple in our freezer. Any night where we didn't have time to prepare a full meal it was easy to remove a bag of pierogies from the freezer, drop them into boiling water for 5 minutes, drain, salt, and butter. For something really special you boiled them for 5 minutes then sauteed them in salted butter in a skillet and served them with sour cream and crisp bacon pieces.

It was only when we moved to Ontario that we discovered that pierogies are not a Canada wide food but centralized in the Prairies. The frozen pierogies can be found but the variety and quality leave much to be desired. Occasionally we would talk to someone who had eaten a frozen pierogi and even a few who liked them but no one knew how to make them from scratch. So I did an online search and found a huge resource of pierogi recipes. I chose The Pierogi Recipe handed down through generations because it was an authentic recipe and provided some insight into the possible problems we would run into.

So, Saturday afternoon PeterC and I peeled 5 lbs. of Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped 2 large onions, and proceeded to make mashed potatoes. While the potatoes were boiling I made up the dough and allowed it to rest. This was the easy part of this particular adventure.

Rolling the dough out to a thin strip and cutting the 3 inch circles wasn't the hard part either. It was standing for 5 hours while we patiently put a teaspoon on mashed potato into the center of each circle and then folded the circle of dough over and pinched it shut to seal in the filling.
After each pierogi was done we layered them in rows on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. When one layer was full another piece of paper was added and the next layer began. Once all the pierogies were completed we placed the cookie sheet into the freezer overnight to allow the dumplings to become completely frozen. They were then placed into freezer bags in small, dinner sized amounts, for future meals.

From the small dough recipe from the above link we made 140 pierogies minus the few that PeterC decided to boil and sample right away. As it turned out, 5 lbs. of potatoes were far to many. We had most of the bowl left after we finished making the pierogies.

In the end we decided to freeze the mashed potatoes too. After spending that much time I couldn't even think about eating mashed potatoes or pierogies for at least two weeks. But, we have learned how to make one of PeterC's favorite foods. And, because we made them ourselves, we know they are fresh and as wholesome as we can make using the ingredients on hand.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Apple Butter

Well, this has turned out to be a very busy weekend at Sparrow Haven. You will recall from the previous post that we bought a bushel of apples from the local orchard so we could make apple pie filling and apple butter. It turned out that we had enough apples left over to do several batches of apple butter.

Apple butter is neither a jam nor a sauce. It is somewhere in between. It is sweeter than apple sauce and almost as thick as jam. The wonderful thing about apple butter is the fact that the apples can be a little bruised and it is really easy to make. A deep pan and a food strainer will let you create a treat for your family to use as a topping for toast or oatmeal for breakfast. You can also use the apple butter as a brush on glaze for pork roasts.

Easy Apple Butter
Whole Apples - Tart such as Granny Smith or Joyce are best
1/2 cp sugar per pound of apples
3/4 tsp lemon juice per pound of apples
Cinnamon to taste

Cut the apples into chunks, skins and all. Cover these with the required amount of sugar, the lemon juice, and cinnamon. Let it set for a few minutes then slowly bring to a boil. Boil uncovered until the apples are soft. Run the whole mess through a food strainer to create apple sauce.

Now you cook that sauce down until it thickens up enough to hold its shape on a spoon. Make sure you stir it every few minutes to keep it from burning or you can place it into a crock pot a cook on high, uncovered, for a couple of hours. Keep an eye on it and stir in occasionally.

After this weekend, we now have several 250 ml jars of apple butter stored away in our cellar. At last count we had 30 jars plus a few left over from last years batch. I think we are set for the winter for apple butter but once PeterC and I start opening jars they tend to go fast. While, right this moment, I don't want to see another apple for a long time, we may just find ourselves wishing for just one more jar of sweet butter in the long dark this winter.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Apple Harvest

Nothing says "The Holidays" better than the smell of a fresh baked apple pie just out of the oven. The hot cinnamon and tart apple scent as it washes through out of the kitchen and through the house will bring a smile to my face every time. Nothing is better, except maybe hot apple turnovers made with flaky crusts served with butter pecan ice cream. Yummy!

But, I'm getting ahead of my self. To make an apple pie, or even turnovers, you have to have a good apple pie filling. I know many a cook who use the canned apple pie filling and made a great pie, but I've always preferred fresh filling. Firm, slightly tart apples cut into either slices or chunks then mixed with sugar, cinnamon, and a thickening agent such as arrowroot powder and you have the perfect filling. Throw in some raisins and maybe a handful of walnuts and you have something truly special.

We are lucky enough to live near an operating apple orchard that sells many varieties of apples starting in early September. It is great when you want apples just to stop by on the way home from work and buy what you need. At least it is great when the apples are in harvest. Otherwise we have to buy apples that have little or no taste from the grocery stores. It is doubly upsetting that these apples are imported from other countries rather than the product of our own country.

Last year we found out that the orchard sells "C" grade, or cooking apples for only $8.00 per half bushel. C grade apples are those apples that are slightly bruised, odd shaped, or otherwise to blemished to sell to the more picky apple aficionados. Since I planned to made Apple Jam, Apple Butter, and an apple pie or two we were more than willing to save money and get a large quantity of apples. We quickly discovered that a half bushel of apples is a very large amount of apples. At the end of my stint in the kitchen we still had a rather large number of apples left and PeterC had eaten so many apples that he smelled like apple juice.

While flipping through the pages of my various cookbooks looking for ideas, I saw a recipe in the Company's Coming Preserves cookbook for apple pie filling. Since I was at a loss for what to do with the extra apples and the recipe made only one quart at a time I gave it a try. I admit I was hooked on the first taste. The fresh filling tasted great but the filling that sat sealed in the jar until Christmas was wonderful. The cinnamon had infused the apples in a subtle way and the tapioca starch thickening agent didn't break down like so many others. Best of all, the recipe is easy enough to alter for a lower sugar version for those trying to trim extra calories.

This year I decided to make several quarts of home made apple pie filling and put it in our root cellar. We bought a half bushel of Joyce and a half bushel of Ida Red apples from the orchard. We made 7 quarts of apple pie filling plus enough extra to make apple cinnamon bread today. We still have quite a few apples left so we plan on making a couple batches of apple butter and maybe some apple sauce. Any apples left over will be made into filling and given to friends as gifts.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Hurricane Ernesto

This week, hurricane Ernesto side swiped the Atlantic Coast States of the United States. It then headed inland where it made a bee line for southern Ontario. The weather forecasters went into frantic drama mode and spent hours of every day telling us to be ready for high wind and heavy rainfall.

Friday evening the wind was gusting but no rain and even fewer clouds were seen. Saturday it was cloudy all day and the wind was more on than off but still it classified as gusting. Finally, last night we heard the wind start and never stop but still no rain. The news last night showed Toronto and Ottawa being deluged but here, in peaceful Sparrow Haven, we had some strong gusts of wind but nothing dangerous or worrisome.

Today, it is still cloudy and the wind is still gusting. One of my lawn chairs is laying on its back, a solar lantern sits on the ground blown from its hanger and broken, and one of my summer squash is laying on its side its mass of sail like leaves catching the wind. Leaves litter the ground like lost fledglings and the birds are all quiet and presumably sleeping somewhere cozy.

With the first hurricane of the season to make it's way north to Canada, it can be said that fall is officially here. We may get an Indian Summer later in September but for now it is cool and damp. The fall season has arrived with less of a trumpet and more of faltering toot of a tired old horn. But, this is only the first blow of fall. As the winter creeps ever closer we're bound to see more rain and lots more wind.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A Trip to the Farmer's Market

Today, while we were in town on errands we ran across a small farmer's market. There were only six booths so I wasn't expecting a lot of luck finding any vegetables we ourselves weren't already growing this year. As luck would have it I was wrong, and very glad we stopped.

We were able to buy 5 lbs. of beets to supplement our small experimental crop; 15 lbs. of blemished tomatoes to supplement our own small crop; and amazingly enough, we were able to buy 5 lbs. of small pickling cucumbers which we didn't plant this year. We were lucky enough to find an Organic Market booth selling cloves of garlic, which we use in every meal, that was nice and fresh.

We only planted four tomato plants this year but PeterC loves salsa so I had planned on making some today using the few tomatoes we had left from my last harvest. So far this year, I have managed to make 9 pints of Salsa Verde, 6 pints Corn Salsa, and today with the addition of the tomatoes from the farmer's market, I was able to make a double batch - 12 pints - of Black Bean and Corn Salsa and still have enough tomatoes left to can a batch of stewed tomatoes or tomato sauce.

The whole pickles have been turned into seven quarts of Super Whole Dill Pickles.. The garlic came in handy here since the recipe I used called for three cloves of garlic in each quart jar. The jars have only just come out of the boiling bath and have yet to make the "POP" sound that means they are sealed against bacteria and vermin. These pickles will end up in our root cellar for at least six months while the flavors of the dill and garlic mingle with that of the salt, vinegar, and sugar in the brine.

The beets have been boiled, skinned, and sliced. The jars are in the canner sterilizing and the brine has been cooked and is waiting on the stove as I write this. This is the first time I have ever pickled beets. In fact an hour ago was the first time I had ever eaten a freshly picked and cooked beet. I must say I am quite taken with the texture and flavor and am looking forward to pickled beets later in the year. I'm also looking forward to the next bunch of beets I pick from our garden as those will be boiled, skinned, and served on that evenings supper plate with butter, salt, and pepper.

So today has been a very productive day. Earlier this morning I put away 6 pints of our home grown green beans. Even though I had already been planning on salsa I was able to double my recipe. I was able to make whole dill pickles. And I am just finishing up making pickled beets for the first time. Tomorrow is another day and the list of things to do tomorrow is as long as today's list but I know that I am creating wholesome and nutritious foods for my family and I to enjoy when the dark winter comes.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Year of the Monarch

Here at Sparrow Haven each year is named for something special or unusual that happened. Last year it was the Year of the Apple because our old 75 year old apple tree bloomed like crazy. This year, it is the Year of the Monarch. Monarch Butterfly that is.

The first sighting was a single butterfly floating gracefully over the freshly cut grass of the back yard. The second sighting was one afternoon when the highest temperature was barely 22 degrees C and the humidity was quite low. We watched in fascination as several Monarchs flitted and fluttered around the outer edges of the trees in our yard. The would alight only to float away a few seconds later.

We tried to get pictures of the butterflies as the flitted gently around the back yard but they seem to have a second sense concerning photographs. No sooner had I turned the camera on and pointed it vaguely in their direction, off they would go to land gently on the next leaf. After several hours of trying to take photos all I can offer is a link to another page with information on the unusual visitors.

The temperatures have gone back up to more normal highs of 30C with humidity up into the 70% and higher range. The Monarchs have been absent from the yard these last few days so we can only assume that the heat and humidity has driven them back to their more normal haunts, wherever that may be.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Calling Dr. Greenthumb

Anytime you plant a garden you will find yourself responding to emergency situations. Sometimes it will be insects eating your leaves, furry raiders eating the vegetables, or even plants gone out of control. There is a solution for everything and asking for help from a knowledgeable soul is the best way to find that solution. We had several emergencies in our garden this year and through research, patience, and the advice of fellow gardeners we were able to avert most problems, or at lessen their destructive possibilities.

One of my favorite places for advice on gardening is Homesteading Today: Gardening and Plant Propagation Forum. There are so many people here who know so much about gardening that it is a great resource. They are all so very helpful and patient in answering even the most basic new gardener questions. The gardens vary in size from small backyard hobby gardens to gardens that take up an acre or more of space.

Early this summer we found our squash plants over run with little yellow and black striped beetles. Turned out they were Striped Cucumber Beetles. Several pesticides are recommended for controlling them but we are growing our vegetables as organically as possible so we had to find another solution. In comes the good folks at Homesteading Today. They recommended a solution of 500ml water, 60 ml vinegar, and a couple of drops of dish soap. Mix and spray the beetles. Sure enough two applications later and our population of beetles is low enough that we are getting plenty of squash for our own uses. After the third application I haven't seen any more beetles.

We have a volunteer pumpkin who was taking over the whole garden. It was suggested we train the vine to climb the fence, and voila!, now we have plenty of room for our other vegetables and the pumpkin. Along with this problem was the need to keep the pumpkin fruit from hitting the ground and either rotting from the excessive rain or breaking off the vine.
The suggestion was to cut strips from an old t-shirt and use it as a sling to hold the pumpkin off the ground while supporting its weight as it grows. As you can see it worked like a charm.

Once you have decided to plant a garden, never overlook the internet as a source of information and knowledge. You can find a huge amount of information on pests, gardening techniques, and storing just by doing a search on Google or Yahoo. But the best advice in the world comes directly from those people who have and do grow gardens every year. You can ask a question and get a direct reply instead of having to wade through thousands of pages of information and they can give you ideas and suggestions that would be hard to find otherwise.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Releasing Books into the Wild

A few months ago I borrowed a book from a coworker that had a label for with a polite note to please register the find. Being the curious person that I am I went to the webpage and found a whole new hobby though one that is very low key and rather slow to reap any rewards.

Bookcrossing is an Internet community for people who love to read and share good books. You can read about the origins of Bookcrossing here: About Bookcrossing. It is free to sign up and register your books, unless you choose to support the site by paying for preprinted labels. All they ask you to do is make a journal entry saying where and when you found a registered book so the original owners can track the books journey.

We are voracious readers sometimes taking weeks to finish a single book but in other weeks we finishing 4 or 5 each. It depends on time and chores. I enjoy sharing my books with those who I think will enjoy them but something about the idea of releasing books into the wild struck a cord in me. So I ordered a release packet consisting of Labels, bookmarks, sticky notes for the front cover, plastic bags with Bookcrossing info printed on it, and a small rubber stamp for printing reminders in the middle and back of the book.

On Thursday last week I received the release package that I ordered. Friday I packaged up my first two books for release, registered them on the Bookcrossing website, and filled in the individual ID number that each book gets when registered. Today, we released those two books into the wild. One here in town and the other in the next town over.

Now I find myself as nervous as a mother watching her child take its first steps. Will my books be found and start a worldwide journey or will they languish unread and uncared for? I've checked the website several times since the releases to see if anyone has found the books yet but so far no luck. Perhaps after I have released a few more the nerves will settle down and I will just enjoy the ride.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Cooking With Green Beans

As you may remember from my previous post we are getting quite a lot of green beans from our small garden. We love to eat green beans steamed, mixed with stews, and even mixed with stir fry. But with the number of green beans we've been picking so far we needed something new and interesting.

I use the Internet a lot to look for new recipes but I also have a horde of cookbooks that I flip through on occasion. I even have a couple of gardening books with recipes for each plant discussed in the growing of section. The "Farmer's Wife..." series is turning out to have some wonderful ideas for home grown fruits and vegetables. If you have a garden and are interested in finding some recipes for cooking and preserving then I suggest you find the books. I bought mine from Lee Valley.

I am one of those cooks that people look at with horror when they watch them in the kitchen. I never follow a recipe exactly, I taste and sniff constantly, and I grab spices off the shelf and sprinkle with abandon. Several people have asked me ho to make some dish or another but in all honesty I can never remember specific measurements so I just make an educated guess.

My most recent recipe came from the Farmer's Wife Guide to Vegetables. The recipe was called Green Beans with Pepper and Cashew Butter Sauce. I read through the recipe and then proceeded to edit it to our personal tastes. Below you will find my version of the recipe which we served with steamed squash and baked chicken.

Green Beans with Pepper and Cashew Butter Sauce
1/2 lb cooked green beans (in 1 inch pieces)
2 Tbsp of butter
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup sweet white onion
3/4 cup cashew pieces
garlic, salt, and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large skillet or wok over medium heat.
Add pepper, onions, and garlic. Cook until onions are soft.
Add Cashews and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes or until peppers start to soften.
Add green beans and stir vigorously for several minutes and beans are hot through.
Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste.


Saturday, July 22, 2006

Green Beans, Anyone?

When we planned our garden we planned not only for fresh produce for the summer dinner table but also for enough to allow for either freezing or canning. We decided to grow green bush beans as well as green pole beans. The bush beans are a known quantity as we have planted them in the past and they have always been good producers. The pole beans are new to us and so the majority of green beans we planted were of the bush variety. We planted four 4 foot rows of bush beans and 2 1/2 rows of pole beans.

For the last two weeks we've been harvesting green beans on a nearly daily basis. During our harvest we usually find a few that have gotten so big that it is obvious that they were left unpicked the day before, unseen under the large leaves of the plants. For the most part though, the beans are 4 to 5 inches long and the beans inside the pods are only just starting to bulge a little. This is the point where the beans are the most tender and delicious.

To make either freezing or canning profitable you need to have several cups of beans ready to process. To this end we wash the freshly picked beans, break the tips off, and snap the pods into one inch pieces. These are then stored in the refrigerator in a tight sealing container, such as a tupperware tub. After today's harvest we had just over 12 cups of snapped beans ready to freeze.

As with most vegetables, green beans ideally should be blanched to allow for the best and longest storage time possible. Blanching means to boil the vegetables for a short period of time, 3 minutes in the case of green beans. The green beans are then drained and dumped into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Once they have cooled off they are drained again, patted dry with paper towels and processed.

To freeze the green beans we spread the blanched beans in single layers on cookie sheets and placed them in a deep freeze for a couple of hours. Finally we removed the beans from the freezer and transferred them to freezer bags in 2 cp portions. If there were more than just the two of us then we would have done them in 3 or 4 cps portions.

Green beans produce from late spring into early fall, usually until the last frost. The love warm sunny days but still seem to produce well even with the cooler nights and damp days we've been having. At the rate we are going, I expect we will end up freezing or canning another 50-60 cps of green beans. They will be a welcome addition to any of our winter meals but especially to hot soups, stews, and casseroles.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Sparrow Haven's New Look

The painters have gone and the world of Sparrow Haven has returned to normal. It's a relief to have our home to ourselves again. The birds are beginning to return to the feeders. The cats and dogs have settled back down to our normal routines. Saturday morning we can sleep late knowing that no one is scheduled to knock on our door.

I promised to share photos of the final result. In the end we have a freshly painted house, porch, garage trim, and roof. The painters used an aluminum oxide paint on the tin roof giving us a few more years of service while sprucing up the looks of the place.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Dust Bunnies

I have learned to appreciate anything that has a strong sense of survival be it animal, plant, or dust bunnies. That's right, I said dust bunnies. We are infested with dust bunnies and we have learned that their survival instincts far out weight my obsession with having a clean, and dust bunny free, home. In our house dust bunnies have been elevated to sentient life status.

Living in an old house we knew that the corners would collect dust and that dust bunnies would take up residence under anything more than 1/4 inch off the floor. What I have only recently learned is that no matter what we do, we can not get rid of the dust bunnies. They move faster, hide better, and reproduce quicker than any other creature on this planet.

Like most timid creatures, dust bunnies prefer to not only hide under things but to hide in the most inaccessible corner of said things. Usually their warrens are exactly 1/2 inch further under the bed that the vacuum hose will reach. But in previous homes moving the furniture was enough to temporarily eradicate the population. We have also discovered that besides reproducing, the dust bunnies diversions include collecting paper balls and riding on the air current created by the pedestal fan.

We first knew we were infested when 5 minutes after completing our spring cleaning I went to retrieve a cat toy only to find a rather large, and menacing, dust bunny chewing on the toy methodically. When I reached in to retrieve the toy the bunny took it deeper into the shadows. A small flashlight revealed that there was more than one bunny. In fact, I counted at least 10 that were almost as large as the first.

War was declared. I took great delight in using the vacuum hose to intimidate and remove the little blighters from their favorite hiding spots. I developed several special techniques to insure that each attack was a surprise, changing tactics like a seasoned Commander. All, to no avail. Immediately after clearing out the warren I would turn on the fan only to see one or two of the larger bunnies gleefully riding the air currents off the floor, over the bed, and down to the floor again. Even a quick grab as they floated by failed to net a capture. With a quick dodge they would zip passed me every time.

We admitted the war was over last night. In a coordinated attack I turned on the fan while PeterC waiting on the opposite side of the bed, with the vacuum, for the bunnies to emerge. Instead of emerging as they have always done, on the opposite side of the bed from the fan, the bunnies swarmed out from under the bed on the fan side. Their light bodies floated into the air and with deadly intent moved against the air current to attach themselves to my face and upper arms. With a trail of sneezes I fled the bedroom and called for a truce. The attacking bunnies returned to their warren under the bed with soft little snickers and much tribal dancing and whooping.

Now don't get me wrong. I will still run the vacuum hose under the bed to clean up the bunnies abandoned toys, garbage heaps, and other unsavory items. But, the joy I took as a predator hunting her prey is gone. I will instead clean up their debris with nonchalant sweeps of my vacuum and if I catch a live one or two, oh well. Survival of the fittest and all that.

But the peace is an uneasy peace. Soon the bunnies will become careless. They will come out into the daylight of the bedroom floor and they will find me waiting vacuum in hand. Either that, or they will learn to create fire, or worse, an atomic weapon and I will be reduced to hiding in fear under the bed while the dust bunnies stalk around the house terrorizing the cats and chewing on the dogs ears.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Sparrow Haven gets a Facelift

When we bought this house we knew that painting was going to be one of the first tasks that needed to be done. Last year we scraped, sanded, primed, and finally painted the west wall during our two week vacation. We tried to change the colours from white with green trim to white with blue trim. Unfortunately the blue turned out brighter than we originally wanted. We also managed to break a few panes of glass which had to be repaired.
This year we planned on getting the north wall done in May and the rest of the house done now, during our two week vacation. Between rain and arguments we finally broke down and decided to call in a professional sometime in June. The quote was reasonable and he was willing to replace the siding that had rotted over the years. Our original quote was just the house but we asked him to paint the porch and garage as well.

While we have yet to receive a new paper quote to cover the additional costs, the painter began working on the house last week. He brought a team of men out and within a couple of days they had scraped the house almost down to the bare wood. Friday they tried to put on the first coat of primer but they were rained out before they could even finish two window frames. They didn't come out Saturday or yesterday as it was a long weekend.

Today, when we got home from town we discovered that they had been and gone already but there is a noticeable change to the house. The windows frames and roof facings have been painted with the first coat of our chosen blue, a nice dark Heritage Blue. The rotten siding pieces have been replaced and look great even if they are only bare wood right now. They even added some caulking between the back porch and the north wall.

It is still a long way from being finished but finally the end is in sight. Now I can concentrate on doing repairs that I know how to do rather than trying to learn how to scrape, paint, and repair siding all while balancing on a very tall ladder. I'll post better pictures when the job is finally completed.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Smith Falls and Burritts Rapids

Today, we decided to head west along the Historic Hwy 2. We didn't really have a destination in mind other than to see what we could see. A picnic lunch was packed and away we went.

Our first stop was Upper Canada Village which is always an interesting place to visit. But, before we even got out of the car we both realized we wanted to see someplace new; someplace different; someplace beautiful. So back onto west Hwy 2 we went.

We traveled through several small, historic towns with many Provincial and Historical Parks to see but we didn't stop. Somewhere along the way we had decided to see Smith Falls and the Hersheys Factory. After looking at the map we decided that traveling to Brockville then north along Hwy 29 would provide the most scenic route. We were not disappointed.

Our favorite town, by far, was Prescott. It was surrounded by lush agricultural land dotted with early pioneer and early 20th century homes. The town itself was lovely, having preserved much of its earlier architecture and showcasing it with wide cobblestone sidewalks and a great view of the St Lawrence River. It was a beautiful town but all to soon we were on the other side and heading once more to Brockville.

We arrived in Brockville to find a town that was built in the early 1900's but had moved into the modern world both architecturally and philosophically. Brockville has a smaller population than Cornwall but is far larger area wise. Many industries have made their homes in Brockville and I couldn't help but feel that I was on the outskirts of either Ottawa or Toronto. We headed north on Stewart Blvd to leave Brockville behind and continue on our adventure.

Several small towns later we came into Smith Falls and after several false starts and wrong turns we finally found the Hersheys Factory. We spent an hour walking along the viewing gallery, watching as plain chocolate bars, Mr Big bars, and Reeses Peanut Butter cups made their way through the production lines. Between each viewing window there were information displays that talked about Mr. Hershey and the history and making of chocolate. It was a little disappointing after such a long drive but a trip to the "Candy Store" lifted my spirits and lightened my pocket book. We won't be buying chocolate for the rest of the year.

When we left the Hersheys plant we noticed a mile marker for Alexandria - 133 km. So on a whim we decided to head east to Alexandria instead of back into Brockville, as we had originally planned. I'm so very glad we did decide left instead of right because we would have missed Burritts Rapids Lock otherwise.

Burritts Rapids Lock -17 is along the Rideau Canal channel between Ottawa and Kingston. It is a small Federal Park that offers picnic tables, BBQ grills, open lawns, overnight tie-ups for boats, a short 4km trail, and good fishing - if the number of people with fishing poles was anything to judge by. We were fortunate that the lock was very busy, being the end of the Canada Day weekend, and managed to get the photos you see here. After watching the lock operate for several minutes we found a picnic bench and proceeded to eat our picnic lunch.

Once our lunch was done we cleaned up our mess, took one more tour of the lock and headed home. All in all it was a very interesting, and relaxing trip. A trip I plan to repeat at least once a year. Next time I will be stopping in Prescott to explore its historic downtown area.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Wishing for that Rural Slice of Heaven

Today was Canada Day and the start of our two week vacation. In the small town where we work and do most of our shopping, all the stores were closed with the exception of a couple of truck stops. We went into town for breakfast and decided to take the long way home.

We took the smaller roads north of town, choosing our direction only when presented with an intersection. I was staking out Elderberry bushes on publicly accessible land for future harvesting when the berries get ripe this fall. I was enjoying seeing someplace I had never seen before.

At one point we came across a sign for Charlottenburg Park, advertising free admittance Canada Day only and decided to visit. The park wasn't overly crowded yet, though it was early on a Saturday afternoon, so we parked and wondered into the picnic area. It was lovely. There were picnic tables and BBQ pits everywhere, a sand beach where you could swim, change rooms, and bathrooms. We sat and watched the water flow back and forth as a ship passed heading west on the St Lawrence, for a few minutes then decided it was time to move on.

On our way out of the park we noticed a trial leading off into the woods. This was a beacon to our exploring hearts. Parking in a designated area we trot off into the woods looking for adventure. Well, we found it in the persistent and unwelcome attention of 300 mosquitoes and a half dozen horse flies. That is until we came to a boardwalk leading to a slow moving creek covered with duck weed and lily pads, the wind was blowing nicely, enough to keep the boards cool under our feet and to push the bugs back into the underbrush.

We sat on the bridge, watching the water and talking softly; admiring the graceful swoop of irridescent blue dragonflies. Occasionally we could hear a car pass along the highway or even see one as it drove down to the beach area in the park. It was absolutely beautiful and peaceful too.

After some minutes, PeterC and I lay down on the bridge and just enjoyed being still and quiet. It wasn't long before the bullfrogs began tentatively calling out to one another with a soft, yet deep, bass croak. First one, then another, and another. In the end there were four frogs calling to each other softly, as if they were afraid their calls would rouse us from our drowsing on the bridge.

We finally did leave but along the trail back to the car, and deep into the evening after we arrived back home, all I could think about was how still and quiet everything was. My mind, and body, for those brief minutes had been still. No thoughts of work had crossed my mind the whole time I had been laying there on the wooden bridge listening to the bullfrogs and birds sing.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Lordy, Lordy, look at the Garden now

We've had a wonderfully cool and wet beginning to summer. So far we've had sun in the mornings and rain in the evenings. Not so much rain that I fear the garden will drown, but enough rain that I've only had to water the garden once in the last three weeks.

The garden is loving it and producing very well indeed. There are a few dozen baby pea pods on the peas. The spinach is growing full as are the beets, carrots, and bush beans We have blooms on all the squash and gourd plants and quite a few baby squash too. There are three small zucchini and at least six baby summer squash. It's hard to keep my fingers away from them. I want so badly to have fresh squash for supper tonight but I am being good and letting them grow a little bigger.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Someone is in the Kitchen

I have many pleasures in life, one of them cooking. I grew up in the Southern USA so there are many cultural meals we cook for ourselves that we can't get anywhere else. In the area I grew up in, it was easy to find pulled pork sandwiches, cornbread, fresh cooked greens, black-eyed peas, and biscuits at the local eateries. Here in Canada, those every day, common man, meals can only be found in my own kitchen.

I'm not sure that PeterC really enjoyed my cooking when we first got married. PeterC is of French - English ancestry and quite unused to the common meals of my old home. And, if I am completely truthful, I wasn't the best cook when it came to my cultural meals. I could cook a mean pulled pork sandwich but the finer points of southern cooking resisted my attempts.

It wasn't until we moved to Sparrow Haven that I finally learned how to cook southern style meals correctly. I can only attribute that to an old, 1932, Watkin's Cookbook that I purchased on Ebay. It didn't teach me southern style cooking but it gave me the recipes for frugal, common, everyday foods which is the quintessential essence of Southern Cooking.

Or maybe, I matured enough to appreciate the simpler fare that has allowed poor families to survive on what little food they could scratch from the dirt. Perhaps that is more the truth for as I age I find myself thinking fondly on those meals that I detested as a child. At the rate I'm going, I will be my mother in another twenty years or so.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Spring to Summer, Overnight

We've gone from a cool, wet spring to a hot, dry summer - overnight. Yesterday morning it was cloudy and warm but a breeze kept us cool. By yesterday afternoon the wind had died, the sun had come out, and the temperature started climbing.

It's a blistering day here at Sparrow Haven. At the time of this writing it is 33C. Even the birds have decided to stay in the shade and try to keep cool. The garden is showing some signs of wilting under the sun but the meteorologists are predicting rain tonight. Of course, they are also predicting a low of only 19C tonight. Summer is truly here.

With an older home like Sparrow Haven we have an advantage over many of the newer homes being built. The walls of the house are 10 inches thick, and the house has a 6ft deep crawl space that stays 15C year round. Besides acting as a great cool storage cellar, the cool air radiates up through the floors of the first level. With the 9ft ceilings on the first floor the temperature downstairs stays 23C as long as we keep the windows closed and the blinds drawn.

Upstairs is a slightly different story. The upstairs' ceiling is barely 7ft so all the heat from down stairs rises up and heats the small space. We keep one or two windows on the shady side of the house open to allow the hot air to escape as much as possible. The roof is galvanized tin which also helps to prevent heat build up. Still, the temperature in the second story is 25C. Once the sun goes down we will open all the upstairs windows to flush the heat out and draw more cool air from the cellar, before we go to bed.

Even with all the advantages our older home offers us, I suspect we will have the air conditioner in the window by the 2nd week of July. But if luck and weather holds out we will only use it until the end of August, when the temperatures start dropping at night allowing us to use our natural cooling system once again.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Sunshine at Last

I didn't think we were going to see sun this year but believe it or not it's been sunny two days in a row. The weather casters are calling for more rain tomorrow but today I am happy. The garden has responded very well to the recent change in the weather.

New leaves are coming out all over and the Alaska Sweet Peas are blooming even though a rabbit did its best to eat them all back to six inches high. The lettuce is beginning to thicken up in the center, getting ready to create a head. The second spinach bed we planted is doing so well that we could eat spinach every night for supper and not pick it all. Definitely a good chance of at least some of the peppers surviving and maturing.

The biggest surprise was how well the various kinds of squash are doing. We planted Buttercup, Spaghetti, Summer Hybrid, Butternut, Yellow Crook-Neck, and Zucchini this year. The Spaghetti squash didn't come up at all and the Crook-Neck hasn't sprouted yet but everything else is growing strong and putting out new leaves on an almost daily basis.

The pole beans I planted are really coming up but the corn we planted with the beans didn't sprout. I'm not sure why I plant corn every year but each year I try a different kind, or a different method of growing it. Each year it will either ignore my attempts or send up weak little sprouts that succumb to the ravages of raccoons and squirrels.

All in all not a bad turn out this year at all.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Holy Toads!

I learned something new today that I would like to share with you. Toads can climb fences and are quite good at it too.

During our daily tour of the garden to see how things are progressing I noticed this fellow cruising along at a pretty good clip up the plastic fence around one of our raised beds. While PeterC ran for the camera, I watched our little dare devil climb confidently higher one step at a time. He would reach up with his front foot, grab the plastic, then bring his hind leg up to the next strand. First his front right and left rear, then his front left and right rear. Hand over hand like an experienced mountain climber. Quite amazing and amusing to watch.

When PeterC finally arrived with the camera, the toad stopped climbing and held on while the photo was being take. PeterC took several pictures to make sure we got one good one and it was a good thing too. Out of seven photos taken only one turned out nice and clear. Finally the toad jumped from the fence and headed into the higher grass. I'm pretty sure he would have finished his climb up if we hadn't bumped the fence trying to get one more close-up photo. Isn't nature fascinating?