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.