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 www.bookcrossing.com with a polite note to please register the find. Being the curious person that I am I went to the webpage www.bookcrossing.com 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.

Enjoy.

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.