Sunday, December 30, 2007

Anniversaries

Yesterday was a day of anniversaries for us. It was the 11th anniversary for us as a couple and it was the 4th anniversary of our purchasing this place that has become home. I don't know which anniversary is the biggest surprise as time seems to have gotten away from us, again.

It seems like only a few years ago that PeterC and I were introduced to each other through mutual acquaintances. People who predicted we would never make it past our second anniversary when PeterC and I announced our engagement. In the end they were wrong, but I admit that it hasn't been a faerie tale either. We've had to work through some tough issues but we've come out the stronger couple for those issues.

I think the house anniversary is the biggest surprise for me. I look around at all the things we've accomplished here and I know we've been here a while. But, when I look at the list of things that still have to be done I feel as if we've only just begun and that makes the time we've been here seem so short. I guess I expected to get more done in the time we've had but I have to admit that we have slowly but surely been working our way through the rather long list of things to be done.

As the New Year approaches it gives us the opportunity to review our previous years' progress and make plans for this coming year. There is a garden to plant and tend, there are renovations to plan for and do, and there is life to be lived as fully and as completely as possible. In my darker moods I feel over whelmed by the amount of work that still has to be done, but there is a challenge there as well. A challenge to be met with determination, planning, and hard work. A challenge I will meet head on as the New Year begins, and as another anniversary is added to our time here.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Season's Greetings

It is that time of year again when the seasons change and religions around the world celebrate a major Holy Day. Here is wishing all of you the most peaceful, most sacred, and the most pleasant Holy Day you observe in your particular chosen religious path.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Snowed In

Some of you may notice that this week's post is a day late. That is because we're as close to being snowed in as we ever have been here at Sparrow Haven, and our Internet connection was down most of the day yesterday.

Between Saturday evening and early this morning we had close to 20 inches of snow fall with winds gusting up to 65 km/hr. The walkway had a 3 foot snow drift covering it, until this morning when I shovelled it out to the front porch. Now it is clear, windy, and quite cold outside so I think the rest of the shovelling will have to wait until this afternoon.

In the meantime, here is a drawing I did for a coworker as a house warming card. Enjoy.
Micron Pen on Archival Card Stock.
4" x 5"

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Power Outage

We had our first big power outage of the winter last night. While cooking supper the power went out for several hours. We don't know what caused the outage though we suspect that it was scheduled maintenance since less than one minute after the power failure the power company knew exactly how many people were without power, and how long they would be without power.

We had our wood stove so we were nice and warm. We had our cast iron cookware so we finished cooking supper on the wood stove, switching over almost by instinct to continue baking our food. We had our oil lamps so we had plenty of light. And, to deal with the initial disorientation of a dark house we had our trusty dynamo shake flashlights, that let us find the oil lamps and matches with no trouble at all.

In fact, with very little effort, we switched from relying on the electric for food and warmth to enjoying a quiet evening in the dark with just our simple implements and ourselves for entertainment. It was peaceful with all the street lights out and the constant hum of electronic equipment missing. Perhaps missing is not the word I should use, as we didn't miss the noise or the equipment at all.

I was disappointed when the power came back on and all the noises we are subjected to in this day and age returned. There is something to be said for the simpler times when computers and telephones did not exist. Yes, it was hard to provide for your family and took working sun up to sun down, but there is a peace that comes over me when the electricity is out. Last night it was not by our choice, but perhaps in the future we will make the choice to live our lives without the constant hum, buzz, whirr, and ring of the modern world.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Maple Syrup

As a child, I can remember my parents subjecting us to "Maple Syrup" if they were in particularly generous moods. It was always a dark brown colour and had a sickly sweet taste that over powered the taste of the pancakes and lingered in not such a nice way on the tongue. I resisted all attempts to feed me anything Maple since those awful memories were formed several decades ago.

No maple flavoured product passed these lips be it candy, icecream, or syrup. That is until just this last fall, when I was approached by a person at work who had access to a case of canned maple syrup from the Quebec Sugar Maple. Being the practical person that I am I purchased a case, eight cans, of syrup with the expectation that this natural sweet would last for years in my long term storage shelves for use in a time when I am forced to use it as the only opportunity for sweet.

It has been three months since we purchased the syrup and what I have found is that real maple syrup isn't thick, gooey, sickly sweet, or disgusting at all. Real maple syrup is only slightly thicker than water, sweet but in a mild after thought kind of way, and the flavour goes so well with so many dishes; roasted root vegetables, BBQ beans, pulled pork shoulder, and of course the obligatory breakfast breads like french toast, pancakes, and waffles.

I have examined this phenomenon and have decided that the real problem lay not in my being a picky eater as a child, it is hard to be picky when you eat what is in front of you or starve. No, the real culprit is the food makers who fill cheap food, like corn syrup, with fake flavours to increase their profit margins. So parents, if you want your kids to eat and like good, real food then feed them the authentic stuff not the overly sweet, sticky, imitation crap that the food industry wants to shove into any eager mouth. In the meantime, next year I think I'll buy two cases of maple syrup, just so we have enough to get us through lean times when they come.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Sourdough Bread

I mentioned yesterday that I had been baking bread most of the weekend. When I got up this morning and saw all those beautiful loaves of bread sitting on the counter just waiting for someone to take a slice or two. I thought I'd share my lovelies with you, and brag just a little, about the fact that my sourdough starter seems to be flourishing and is obviously doing its job.

There are two loaves of 50% wheat, two loaves of white, one loaf of cinnamon raisin, and the round loaf is herb. PeterC took a loaf of cinnamon raisin to work today but you get the idea. I'm so happy, and very excited to see this particular little project work out so well. PeterC seems quite happy with the results too, as he has declared he isn't sharing with anyone at work regardless of how much they beg. I do so love it when my food is appreciated.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Blowing up a Storm

It's been cold and windy this weekend. For the last several hours the wind has been blowing in from the South East bringing with it spits and sputters of snow and sleet. Several sources are saying that this storm has wrecked havoc with the power grid in NE, USA. These are unconfirmed sources but I have no reason to doubt their truth. Throw another Cat on the bed Mabel, it's going to be a cold one tonight.

On the upside, our Sno-Gems seem to be working like a charm. Earlier this week it warmed up enough to let the snow and ice from last weeks weather slide off the roof. It made a racket as it let go and tumbled for the front walk. The next morning I took a look and found snow and ice on either side of the steps, but the steps themselves free and clear. The snow and ice was captured and held firmly by the sno-gems, allowing it to melt slowly and drip into the gutter.

I've been baking bread for the last two days. I finally decided it was time to use up as much of the extra sourdough starter as I could stand. Yesterday, I made two beautiful loaves of plain bread. Today, I was a bit more adventurous and I now have five loaves of bread rising in the loaf pans. The disadvantage to sourdough bread is that it takes longer to rise than yeast bread. It'll get frozen and eaten over the next few weeks while I build up my sourdough starter again.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Sourdough Starter

I pride myself on being able to feed my family in as many ways as possible, so when I am introduced to a new concept I almost always give it a try. Such was the case with Sourdough Bread. I knew what sourdough looked like and even tasted like but I did not know the ins and outs of making sourdough. Needless to say this has been yet another adventure; more like a long, drawn out science experiment really.

To make sourdough bread you have to have a sourdough starter. If you check the Internet you will find a dozen ways to make the starter but for the most part it is either warm water or milk and a whole grain flour like whole wheat or rye. Most people agree that organic flour is better than non-organic. You mix these ingredients in equal parts in a large mouth glass bowl using a wooden spoon and you let it sit uncovered for half and hour to four hours. After that you cover it with cheese cloth and put it someplace warm, 22º-27º C, and let the science experiment commence.

Ideally, within a few hours you should see some serious bubbling going on and a layer of liquid forming. This liquid is alcohol and is the by product of bacteria and wild yeast spores found in the air and in whole grain flour. The bubbling is caused by carbon dioxide which is also a waste product of the yeast and bacteria and is also what causes sourdough bread to rise. Once you get a good bubbling action you allow the starter to work for several days in this warm environment, stirring the liquid back in each day, until you get a very strong beer smell.

Once the beer smell arrives you have successfully made sourdough starter, but now you have to feed it. Like any good experiment it has to be kept fed on a regular schedule and needs to sleep in the perfect environment to allow it to continue to grow without starving itself to death. So, on the fourth day of the experiment you take one cup of this liquid goop and pour it into a clean glass jar and add a cup of flour and a cup of warm water. Let it sit uncovered for about an hour until it starts bubbling again, then cover it and refrigerate. You can either throw out the rest of the starter or use it to make pancake batter. Every time you remove starter from the jar you have to replace it with equal parts water and flour. If you don't use it regularly, you have to throw part of it out and replace it with equal parts at least once a week.

Now, as I said in paragraph two, the operative word is ideally when making starter. In reality it is a little more hit and miss than that. I tried for over two weeks to get a starter going using every combination of ingredients I could come up with. The first day would go great but by the end of the day the starter would just be a big goop in the bottom of my bowl, flat and boring. Out of sheer desperation and frustration, I added three pinches of regular yeast to my starter, stirred and hoped for the best. I had already decided after four false starts that if this one didn't work, I was quitting because I was tired of wasting perfectly good and very expensive organic whole wheat and rye flour.

Low and behold, adding that small amount of yeast worked. I now have a perfectly happy and thriving sourdough starter, a lot of it. I can't bring myself to throw half of it away now that I have the silly thing growing. So I have three jars of starter sitting in my refrigerator, and trying hard to get all but a single cup of it used up before I have to feed it again. Because, like the Blob from the old Sci-Fi movie, every time it eats it doubles in size. Soon, I'll be swimming in starter.

Tuesday I made Sourdough Biscuits that turned out more like dinner rolls. Today I am making two loaves of sourdough risen bread. Tomorrow, I will make sourdough waffles for breakfast and maybe some more biscuits for supper. After that I plan on trying muffins, cinnamon rolls, and pizza shells. If I can get all these things made this week I'll be all right and won't get swallowed by the "Thing in My Frige".

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Gem of an Idea

Anyone who has ever had a porch roof with no peak over the steps will know what it is like when snow and ice build up on the roof only to slide off unexpectedly. First, there a huge amount of noise, in fact I'm pretty sure the pitter patter of reindeer hooves in the Christmas tales is actually the snow and ice avalanche caused by said reindeer. Second, if the slide is fast enough it can damage the roof especially if you have an old tin roof that isn't quite secured at the corners anymore. Third, it can be dangerous for any unsuspecting soul who is stand under the leading edge. And, finally, if you have just installed a nice new gutter the falling ice can and most likely will damage the gutter and/ or the downspout.

Many of the businesses around here use snow barricades which are essentially long sections of one inch pipe mounted a few inches above the roof. We looked into getting something similar mounted on our porch roof but found the cost and the look just didn't fit with the style of the house. While looking for other options we found a product called Sno-Gem that we thought would do the trick. A polycarbonate pyramid, they came in many colours or clear. For us the clear was the solution. We could mount them on the tin roof and they would blend in and not look so terribly out of place.

That was this weekend's big project. We mounted the Sno-Gems in a double row, alternating higher and lower, to covering a span of approximately ten feet. That worked out to cover a foot on either side of the porch posts bracketing the stairs, and extending past the gutter downspout by a foot.

If this works as well as we hope it will, we will extend the double row along the entire length of the porch roof line next summer. If it turns out that the double row isn't enough, we will do a third row of gems alternating every other panel on the tin but only over the steps. I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that this will solve the problem of killer snow and ice slides from the front porch roof.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Goddess Spoon and Penguin

Title: Goddess Spoon and Penguin
Wood Species: Basswood
Technique: Standard Carving using a knife
Finishing: NaturOil

These two carvings were completed this week from scrap basswood. I hate wasting wood, especially when I'm not sure when or if I will be able to replace what I use, so I save larger scraps. The penguin started out as a 1.5" x 1.5" piece of wood. The spoon started out as a 2" x 5" piece of wood and my intention had originally been to carve a kangaroo. Somehow along the way a kangaroo became a spoon with a decidedly more esoteric theme. Maybe I'll get that kangaroo carved over the coming months.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cathedral Spoon

Title: Cathedral Spoon
Wood Species: Birch
Starting Size: 6" x 1"
Technique: Standard Carving using a knife
Finishing: NaturOil

I started this spoon some months ago and finally decided to finish it up and post some pictures. It was carved from a piece of hardwood purchased from Home Depot. I'm almost positive it was Birch. I guess I need to start keeping a diary of what I carve and what it is carved from, especially since I tend to start something and finish it months later.

This wood is far harder than anything else I have carved to date and I found it quite difficult to work with. The outline work was fairly easy, as long as the knife was very sharp. The bowl and heart required a lot of work, concentration, and constant sharpening and honing of my knife blade. I love the look of the finished piece and have already started a more complicated spoon in the same wood.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Home Made Hummus

We love a good hummus but the stuff you find at the grocery stores is neither good, nor good for you. Reading the ingredients list is enough to make you want to give up food period. When the mood hits we make our own hummus, and we believe it is the best hummus in the world.

Home Made Hummus
2 cps Cooked, drained, and mashed chickpeas
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp lemon zest
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp chili pepper
1 Tbsp salt
1/8 cp Sesame Oil
1/4 cp Olive Oil
1 Tbsp Garlic Powder

Add the Sesame oil first and adjust the amount of olive oil to get the correct consistency.
Add spices and mix well.
Adjust the spices to suit your own tastes.

Serve hummus on warmed flat breads or even crispy tortillas. With the right spices it can also be used as a substitute for peanut butter, though not as thick.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Fall Chores

This weekend has turned out to be fall chore weekend. Actually, it seems like every weekend from the beginning of October until the snow falls is chore weekend. No matter how much time we spend working around the house, there always seems to be more work than time.

There are some chores you forget about, or put off until you get that first negative temperature morning which reminds you that winter is on its way. When you live in an old, and not so insulated house you have to take extra care to preserve your heat in the winter. Not only do we need to stay warm but we need to keep the heating bill down to a minimum. So, this morning we started covering the windows with plastic, after we washed them inside and out. We ran out of plastic before we ran out of windows but we have a decent start and can finish them over the coming week.

The freeze last night also reminded us that we had two rain barrels full of water. If you don't want to replace your barrels every year you have to drain them before the hard freezes start hitting. Along with the rain barrel we drained the hoses and the water pump, and the garden fountain that the chickadees love so much in the summer.

The last chore of the day was putting up the car shelter. Our garage has turned into a garden shed and last year the truck spent the winter in the driveway. The snow and ice weren't terrible but occasionally I wished we could park in the garage. This year we saved our money and bought the car shelter so the truck won't be covered with ice, snow, or frost every morning. We slightly underestimated the length of the truck but for now this will do well enough.

Unfortunately, building the shelter took the rest of the day and we have only just come back inside. The temperature was low enough out that we are both chilled to the bone and weary from working in the cold. Tonight will be a night for hot showers and wrapping up in lap blankets until the tenseness in the muscles release and we can finally go to our warm beds and sleep the night away, to wake up and start the next chore on the list.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Our Night Has Been Made

It turned out to be a fairly warm night,compared to previous years so we have the front door open so we can here the kids coming up the steps before they get to the motion detecting screeching cat. It is lots of fun to hear the kids scream and giggle, especially when one or more of the group get startled when the cat screams.

Well, while waiting for the next set of visitors we hear a voice coming from across the street "I love that house, I love that house." A few minutes later we here thud, thud as a 10yr old boy bounces - obviously way to much candy already- up the steps laughing like a nut. When PeterC answers the doorbell the kid screeches "I remember you guys from last year. I love this house. I love this house." Meanwhile the older brother is looking totally unimpressed and somewhat embarrassed at the whole situation.

I love Halloween!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Happy Halloween

Hallow's Eve Games
It was a cold and windy day.
The spooks and goblins came out to play.
Preparing for that special day,
When every one gets dressed up.
Porch lights will glow in the dark
Doorbells will ring, and children will shriek
TRICK OR TREAT.




We love halloween. We enjoy decorating the porch and hedge not only with spooks and spectres, but also with the signs of the late harvest season. The children get candy; their joy infectious, able to make us smile with their shrieks, giggles, and timid little voices.

When the day is over the corn goes to the squirrels if they haven't already stolen it from the porch, and the rest go into the compost bin to feed next years garden. The decorations will go back into storage until next year when we once again decorate the porch and hedge.



Happy Halloween

Thursday, October 25, 2007

New Blog Link - Country Family

Sometimes I find a blog that is interesting that I figure I will share with readers. Melissa, from Homesteading Today, has just started her blog but has been homesteading for several years. I look forward to learning from her adventures. I encourage you to visit some of the other blogs on my list.

Edited to Add: After following her blog for a few weeks I have taken her link from my blogs list in the side bar. However, I want to make sure anyone interested can still find her blog so here is the link for Country Family.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Perfect Fall Weekend

This has been the perfect fall weekend, here at Sparrow Haven. The temperature was neither to hot, nor to cold. The skies were clear and a nice breeze was blowing. The trees have all changed colour, seemingly overnight and the wind has been blowing clouds of orange, yellow, and red all over the yard today.

The sparrows took advantage of the weather and took turns bathing in the bird bath. A half dozen at a time flying in to flutter and sputter in the water, only to be replaced by a different half dozen a few minutes later. They exhibited such unfettered joy that we couldn't help but laugh at their antics. They seemed unconcerned with our peeping and only ended the bathing when the neighbours cat came to see what all the fuss was about.

We did a majority of the fall yard and garage cleanup today. Yard items were stored away for the winter, with a few exceptions that will need to be stored later this month. The garage was cleaned and organized to make room for the lawn chairs and BBQ. We threw out some items we had been holding onto "just in case", and were happy when one or two of them found new homes almost immediately.

We even found time to plant some bulbs we ordered through the mail and received a couple of weeks ago. Miniature Daffodils, Glory of the Snow, Snow Crocus, and Narcisis blooms will dot the yard and bring some much needed relief to the spring blues. The crocus will be especially pretty when they bloom very early in the new year, while the snow is still covering the ground. The miniature daffodils and the Glory of the Snow will only bloom later in the Spring, adding patches of yellow and blue to the brown winter killed grass.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Chimney Repair

When we first bought this house we made a list of things that had to be repaired or replaced. One of the things to get repaired was the chimney. This old house has a brick chimney that some one had parged rather than repoint the bricks. Over the last few years the parging has starting coming off, bringing a distressing amount of brick with it. Finally, we found someone who could and would do the repair work.

The crew showed up on Tuesday only to get rained out after they had removed the old bricks to just below the roof line. We were at work so all we could do was hope they had covered it well enough that no rain could blow in. We got home and found that they had a done a great job of covering the hole. A phone call promised they would be here Sunday afternoon to finish the work.

This morning around 11am the chimney repair crew showed up to complete the work, even though it was cloudy and cold. The contractor chose a lighter colour brick than we had, under the parging. They rebuilt the chimney, giving it a slightly fancier lip than expected, and capped it to keep rain, snow, and squirrels out. It isn't a functioning chimney, and hasn't been for years, but the house looked naked with it. Now she looks whole and complete once more.

So now I can mark "Repair Chimney" off my seemingly endless list of things to get done. But, that is one of the joys and heartaches of owning an old house. The heartache of finding someone who can do the job and do it right, or learning the skills to do it yourself. The joy is seeing the house slowly but surely returning to its original beauty and knowing that she will stand for another hundred years, through rain and shine.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Broccoli - Carrot Cheese Soup

It's cold and damp here today. This morning at sunrise it was 15ºC but as the sun rose, the storms moved in, and the temperature began to fall. It's lunchtime now and we are looking at 11ºC with rain and wind. Needless to say, it is the perfect day for a rich homemade soup. Rummaging around in the refrigerator I found carrots, broccoli, and hot peppers in need of being used. I thought I would share my recipe for Broccoli - Carrot Cheese Soup.

Sparrow Haven's Broccoli - Carrot Cheese Soup
6 cps chicken broth
1 medium carrot - shredded
1 bunch broccoli - the stems peeled and chopped and the florets cut into bite size pieces
1 medium hot pepper - diced finely
1 medium onion diced
2 Tbsp butter
3-4 Tbs flour
2 cps milk or cream
3/4 cps shredded sharp cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Combine broth, carrot, salt, and broccoli stems in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the vegetables are very soft. Blend until smooth.

In a separate pan melt the butter and saute onions until they start to brown. Add the flour to make a rue. Blend in milk to make a cream sauce.

Add the cream sauce, broccoli florets, and pepper to the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook stirring constantly until thickened. Taste to see if there is enough salt. If not add more to taste.

Once soup is thickened, remove from heat, and stir in shredded cheese. Serve hot with a garnish of shredded cheese and a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper. Tastes great with light rye toast on the side instead of traditional soda crackers.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Heron & Crane Window Brace

Title: Window Brace #4
Wood Species: Scrap Pine
Starting Size: 3 x 15 x 1/2 " Stepped Window Brace
Technique: Geometric and Freestyle Chip Carving
Finishing: Light gel stain and 2 heavy coats of Urethane.


The most recent in the series of decorative window braces used to prop open the old sash windows in the house. It was the blank sides of the original window brace that prompted me to try and fall in love with the looks of chip carving. I am not a master and will most likely never be a master, but the carvings fit our lifestyle and the age of our home.

The birds are taken from two different pattern books and adapted to suit the overall picture I wanted to create. The pine tree, fish, water, and dragonflies are my own patterns based on my limited artistic skills.







Sunday, September 30, 2007

Odds and Ends

Friday, after work, we stopped at Farm Boy grocers in town. We don't shop there often as we have had problems with some of their meat going bad overnight. Since we were looking for produce we thought we would give them a go. One of the best things about Farm Boy is the produce department is half the size of the entire store. You can get produce there that can not be found at any other grocers. They also carry several variety of peppers rather than just giving us the choice of Jalapeños or Green Bell. On average they carry eight variety of hot pepper and at least four types of sweet peppers including Green Bells.

So Friday, we picked up several types of produce including some bulk carrots, 10lb for $2.00, and Cubanelle Peppers, 8 peppers for $3.00. We peeled and chopped all the carrots and three of the cubanelle peppers to be dehydrated for soups this winter. The carrots tasted so good I was tempted to go back and get another bag but have restrained myself so far. The peppers dried up nicely and will make a nice addition to soups and sauces this winter. The remaining peppers will be eaten in our meals this week.

It's a very dreary day here today. The temperature is hovering around 8ºC right now. Yesterday wasn't much better with the high only hitting 18ºC at around 3:00pm. The sky is overcast and what little wind there is cold. Neither of us feel like being outside today so we will spend the day vacuuming and washing the last load of laundry. Perhaps I'll bake a pumpkin custard from the pie pumpkin I bought on Friday. That will warm the house and us nicely.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Citrus Juicer - Carving

Title: Citrus Juicer
Wood Species: Basswood
Starting Size: 1.5 x 1.5 x 12" block
Technique: Knife to shape in the round and chip carve ridges and flowers
Finishing: Light gel stain and several heavy coats of Urethane.


PeterC asked me to carve a juicer that could be used for lemons and limes. I'm fairly happy with the results. The handle shape is quite comfortable and the hand guards work well to keep the hand from slipping. The ridges on the juicer bulbs were quite difficult to carve and several are too deep and the edges cracked during the carving process.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Heart Pendant - Carving


Title: Heart with a Tagua Nut inset.
Wood Species:
Basswood
Starting Size: 1.5 x 1.0 x 3/4 " block
Technique: Knife to shape wood and the Tagua Nut
Finishing: Water based stain two heavy coats of Urethane.

I created this pendant as a gift for PeterC. It was originally supposed to be a birthday present but time got away from me. Instead it was presented to him in the early part of September, when the mounting was finally installed.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Peace of Mind

It has been a long week this week, but finally it is over. I work outside the home, and Sparrow Haven is as much my haven from the rest of the world as it is for the feathered and furred. I like coming home after work and seeing the birds line up at the feeders waiting their turn, or more often than not cutting line and squabbling. This is especially true during the twice yearly migration.

The migration brings with it a sense of relief. The fall migration is the end of the summer heat wave. It heralds the slow down in the outside chores. All the canning is done, or nearly done. The firewood has been purchased and stacked. The promise of quiet evenings in front of the fire hangs in the air and with that is the hope that I find peace of mind from the troubles outside of Sparrow Haven.

Here's to the Heralds of Winter.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Not so Welcome Guest

Normally, I am pretty laid back about the wilder side of nature coming for a visit inside the house. As long as they don't destroy anything in the process. However, I draw the line at certain multi-legged beasties, namely spiders. I don't suffer from the screaming heebie jeebies when a spider comes a calling but I do firmly insist they leave by the same door they came in.

Living at Sparrow Haven we are blessed, if that word applies here, to have many variety of spiders who understand that they live outdoors. Well, with the exception of the common House Spider who likes to hide in my cupboards and who gets vacuumed up as soon as they are discovered. All the dishes in the cupboard gets washed, too, just in case of spider cooties and the remains of their dinners.

Occasionally, though, we will get a visitor who doesn't understand the rules of the house. He, or more likely she, will come traipsing through with the intention of making this their own private dwelling. Out will come the paper cup or whatever PeterC has handy and outside they will go.

Yesterday, we had a new spider visit. He, or she, had started slinging webs between the handles of my kitchen knives as they sat in their block. PeterC was quicker to spot the invader than I was and decided some pictures would be nice. After the picture taking session was over I firmly insisted that the spider move on.

This is a new one on us. We've never seen a spider marked like this before. We spent a good deal of time trying to find a good online identification guide but to no avail. So, if any of you are arachnophiles and can ID this species please leave a comment. We'd greatly appreciate it.



Saturday, September 08, 2007

Smoked Chicken & Roasted Corn Chowder

When you have a good BBQ and a smoker it opens a whole new world of flavours to explore. Today we made a thick corn chowder using smoked chicken breasts and roasted corn. I added a few spices and ended up with a delightful treat. Hope you enjoy.

Smoked Chicken & Roasted Corn Chowder
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 smoked chicken breast, diced
5 ears corn roasted and the kernels cut off the ear
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stick, diced
2 head roasted garlic
3 Tbsp flour
1/2 roasted sweet red pepper
2 cups milk
3-4 cps chicken broth
2 Tbsp cumin
2 Tbsp Hot Sauce (I used Trinidad Hot Sauce)
3 Tbsp dried cilantro leaf
Salt and Pepper to taste
Shredded Cheddar Cheese

In a large dutch oven melt the butter and saute the onions and 1 head of roast garlic just until the onions get soft.

Stir in the flour and mix well.

Add the chicken, 2 cups of corn kernels, carrots, celery, cilantro, cumin, hot sauce, broth, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then lower temperature and simmer for 5 minutes

As the pot simmers combine the rest of the corn, half the roasted pepper, the last garlic head, and the milk. Use a blender to puree until smooth.

Dice the rest of the red pepper.

When the pot is done simmering add the puree and red pepper and mix well. Bring the pot back to a simmer and simmer for another 5 minutes. Stir it often or it will stick to the bottom of the pan as it gets thick.

Serve with shredded cheddar on top or even a dollop of sour cream if you prefer.

Makes 6 - 8 two cup servings.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Harry Mclean's Pub

It was a beautiful day and we decided to take the trip out to Merrickville to visit the shops we had missed the first trip out. We left home early and decided to skip breakfast and find a nice place to eat in Merrickville. It was a great decision. Every once in a while a meal will come along that will be so good that you just have to talk about it to everyone you meet. We had just such a meal yesterday at Harry Mclean's Pub in Merrickville.

Harry Mclean's is a small pub that is a resident of a Historical Site that was once home of the largest dry goods store west of Montreal, or so the staff informed us. The pub's outdoor patio is in the fact the inner courtyard created by the coming together of several buildings. We chose the courtyard because it was a lovely day and the courtyard was nice and quiet. For the first 30 minutes or so we were the only couple occupying the courtyard with it's neatly trimmed grass, burbling fountain, and plastic outdoor furniture.

I ordered a burger with Caramelized Onions and Swiss Cheese. The burger came with fries so I upgraded to Sweet Potatoes Fries. The food arrived within 15 minutes of placing our order and it was delicious. The burger was tender and juicy and the fries were crispy and sweet in the way that only sweet potatoes can be. The onions were done perfectly and the sweetness of the onions accented the burger perfectly.

PeterC ordered the Parmesan Crusted Chicken on Fettuccine with Garlic Cream Sauce. The chicken breast was quite large without being to thick. Under the crispy coating of the Parmesan cheese it was cooked all the way through and juicy. The noodles were thick and we decided that they must have been hand made though it wasn't mentioned on the menu. The garlic cream sauce was a exactly that, a garlic cream sauce. It was very garlicky, which is something most restaurants do not do well, but otherwise it was a little bland. Some salt and pepper added to the noodles helped to balance all the flavours and made it much more enjoyable.

The hardest part about the experience was getting the bill. We waited patiently at our table for half and hour or so and stood in the kitchen entrance for another 20 minutes. The line chef passed the word up the to the waitress who promptly forgot us. We rang the courtesy bell and asked the person who answered the bell for the bill. Ten minutes later we walked around to the front of the pub where we were apologetically cashed out by the man we assume was the manager.

Even though it was difficult getting the bill it was a great meal in a pleasant setting. All in all I have to say it was worth the stop and I would recommend it to anyone else who will be in the area.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Support your Local Farmer

Farmers, the small family farmers, have been having a hard time of it pretty much since the depression. Some farmers who didn't lose the farm to the banks have ended up losing their farms to the monster agri-corp companies that have done their best to buy out all the family farms. Others lose out to developers and their cronies within the government.

Some farmers have tried to hold on to their way of life and deal with the unreasonable demands put on them in response to lobbying of the government. But in the end, old age and the lack of willing family members to take up the task leave the farms unworked and soon added to the 1000's of acres of land owned by the agri-corps. And, if the agri-corps don't get the land the housing developers do, purchasing it for pennies on the dollar through back room deals with the local municipal governments. A truly sad state of affairs.

In the last few years there has been a movement among the smaller farmers to take back their land and their way of life. Signs have popped up all over Ontario that read "Farmers Feed Cities" and "No Farmers, No food, No Cities." Some of the signs are sported by the people who thought to buy a country estate and grow their own food only to find out that gated community rules and municipal bylaws make it impossible to grow enough to feed themselves in their new "country" home.

Most of the signs, however, are displayed in farming communities throughout southern Ontario in direct response to local, county, and provincial bylaws that are making it hard to do what farmers do best. Rules that are applied to large agri-corporations due to the size and conditions they operate in are being applied to the small farmer, due to lobbying by the larger corporations, who wants to sell at the farmer's market. Rules that require extra outlay of cash that in many of the smaller farms is the only profit they see in a single year.

So when you decide to buy fruits and vegetables, especially those that are grown in your own local area, buy locally. Find the booth down the street that sells what is in season. Talk to your grocer and ask them to carry local produce, produce grown within the same province or better yet within the same municipality. Find out where the local farmers market and buy as much of your fruits and vegetables there. Your purchase will bring extra income to the small farms who need it most. And, you'll be buying a product that is fresher and guaranteed tastier than anything you buy that is trucked in from another province or from another country.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Weather Prediction

I don't understand why it is so hard to find an accurate prediction for our area. For some reason, the Weather Network uses the weather readings and predictions for a city 150 km from here as the predicted weather for this area. The government site is only a little better but even they use weather readings from a town in Quebec as the source of our weather. Yesterday the forecast was for 23º and breezy. Instead it is 30º and the humidity was hovering around 80%.

When even a few kilometres will make a difference in the temperature, wind, and humidity it is imperative that gardeners, people who work outdoors, and farmers have a way to predict the weather in their area. We watch the Weather Network every morning but we're watching the overall weather map that shows the jet stream. If it is below us on the map the weather will be cool. Above us and I can guarantee that it'll be hot and humid. That's about as far as my predictions go.

When I was a kid, and my father was a commercial fisherman in Florida, he watched the weather then went outside just before dawn. He'd look around and come back inside to tell us whether the weatherman was right or wrong. In my father's case it could mean life or death if he got the weather wrong and got caught on the water during a storm. I can't remember him ever being wrong, but for the life of me I don't know what he looked at or how he could tell what the weather was going to do.

It seems that we have lost the ability to look at our surroundings and know what the signs were telling us. Perhaps it was simply a necessity, back in the day when the weather could make or break a farming family. Perhaps we have come to rely to heavily on the technology that is available and have forgotten to think for ourselves. Or, maybe we have tuned out natural intuition for so long that we have lost the ability to live freely as a whole and working member of the natural world.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Fire Wood

This weekend turned out to be far busier than I had planned for. I picked a half bushel of ripe and semi ripe tomatoes after work Friday. The plan had been to get up early Saturday and begin making salsa, tomato sauce, and the like. Unfortunately, the firewood showed up late Friday afternoon too.

We don't own a wood lot so we have to buy our firewood from other people. We've bought wood from five different people in the last three years and of the five only one returned out call earlier this month. He was our favourite supplier as his wood was always clean, dry, and a really good mix of hardwoods. But, this year he broke his hip and wasn't able to deliver wood. Since none of the other suppliers called back we had to start looking in the newspapers for another supplier.

We finally found one who returned our call and ordered eight face cords. A face cord is a stack of split wood that measures 8 ft. x 4 ft. by the length of the cut usually 12-16 inches. Over the average winter we will use six face cords. Last year was mild so we only used four face cords. We always order eight so that if it is colder than average, or if the power fails for more than a day or two, we know we have enough wood to carry us through the winter.

Friday around 8:00pm the new supplier calls and says he is on his way with the wood. This is unusual as most people who deliver firewood only do it during the day. He arrived driving a huge dump truck, the kind you see at construction sites, and it is loaded with what looks like good wood. He dumps the wood, we pay him, and he goes on his merry way.

Saturday morning dawned hot and humid. It has been cooler than average for the last three weeks, but Saturday was miserable. Regardless, we started the process of filling the wheel barrow and garden cart with wood and hauling it to the back of our lot for storage. As we made progress into the wood pile we find that it is a mix of everything from pine to red oak, freshly cut to rotten. To make matters worse it looks like the lower half of the load has been sitting in the mud for the last few months. We worked until it was to hot to breath, somewhere around noon.

This morning was cooler, so we went to work early again. Unfortunately, the cooler temperature only lasted as long as it was cloudy and the wind was blowing. By lunchtime it was hot and humid and time to stop. Most of the pile of wood has been moved now and it will only take a couple of hours after work this week to finish moving and stacking.

However, where the wood pile now stands there will be a huge pile of bark, clay, and mud that was stuck to the wood when it was delivered. Something will have to be done with the leftovers. Some of it will find its way into the compost bin but I suspect the rest will be raked and shovelled into the wheel barrow and dumped in one of the many low spots around the yard.

We hope to get a wood lot of our own some day but until then we try to see the positive in everything, even if it is a pile of gunk left over from a sorry excuse for fire wood. But since the wood showed up this weekend, that means I will be free next weekend to get my tomatoes processed. I just hope the weather cooperates and is cooler and drier than it was this weekend.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Preserving the Harvest: Tomatoes

This year's canning has finally begun. Well, actually it began last Sunday when we went to the local tomato farm and bought 20 lbs. of ripe tomatoes. I was in the mood to start canning but the tomatoes from our garden were not quite ripe enough.

We used the fresh tomatoes to make two batches of tomato sauce. The first batch was run through the strainer, spiced with fresh herbs and garlic, and cooked down to a little less than it's original volume. The second batch was made by just chopping the tomatoes without peeling or straining them. We used dried herbs and garlic powder in the second batch. Otherwise the two recipes were exactly the same; vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and herbs.

After each batch cooked down to the right consistency we filled 1Litre jars and used a pressure canner to seal them. With the added vinegar I could have simply done a boiling bath for 30 minutes to seal them properly, but with tomatoes I prefer to pressure can them. The pressure sealing gets to contents of the jars hot enough to kill any problems and it forces the extra air out forming a nice tight seal. We have tomatoes from 2005 in the cellar that are still in perfect condition.

This weekend we finally had enough of our own ripe tomatoes to can. We chose to do canned chopped tomatoes and a nice spicy picante salsa. We use the recipes from the Company's Coming: Preserves Cookbook but we change the spices to suit our wants and we pressure can them for the extra safety. This year the tomatoes cooked down a lot more than normal and floated to the top of each jar. Makes for a rather odd looking jar, thick tomato puree floating on top of an orange coloured water, but they will be tasty this winter when we want to make stews.

The salsa is still cooking and will probably be cooking for another couple of hours. We like thick and chunky salsa so the volume in the maslin pan will have to decrease by at least half before I think about canning it. After it is canned, and all the seals have set, it will be labelled and added to the salsa left over from last year where it will be for at least six weeks. It takes six weeks or more for the flavours in the salsa to mingle and intensify enough to be really tasty.

Over the next few weeks we will be picking the last of the tomatoes which will be turned into more tomato sauce and salsa, especially if they aren't as ripe as they should be. After that we still have beets, carrots, and a few more peas to pick. Of course, there is always to possibility that we will find a great deal on local fresh corn or make a trip to the apple orchard, too. Either will result in another couple of days in the kitchen and more jars filling the shelves in the cellar.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Williamstown Fair

Every county and quite a few cities have fairs every year. Booths full of food, displays of local singing talent, and of course games and rides line the avenues of fairs all over Canada every year in the summer months. County fairs are known for their animal shows and agricultural links, and for bringing families of the community together for some good natured competition.

Williamstown Fair in not the exception, except in one way. Williamstown Fair is the longest running Country Fair in Canada. The Williamstown Fair has officially been running for the last 196 years, debuting in 1812 when agriculture was at its heyday. It was a time when communities and families were spread far and wide and the fair brought them together for 3 days just before the major harvest push began.

This year we made it out to the fair on the first day. The midway was going strong and there were a few crafts booths setup along the entrance we used. The Mini-Donut wagon was busy as was the hotdog stand. The Exhibit Hall displayed the results of the judging of everything from woodcrafts to sewing; from growing to preserving. Horses performed with their riders in the centre pasture and the Cattle Barns were full of the county's best offers of the year.

While I viewed the show chickens and timidly approached a Llama in the petting zoo, PeterC spent most of his time watching the blacksmith ply her trade in the crafts tents. He has, over the last few years, developed an interest, both historically and practically, in blacksmithing. The visit to the fair gave him to opportunity to view a working blacksmith and ask all those questions he hadn't been able to answer through his study and research.

All in all it was a pleasant afternoon and worth the meagre entrance fee of $7.00 per person. Who knows, maybe next year I'll even enter some of my garden efforts to be judged against the best in the county. If nothing else participation in the community will make it worth the time and effort to try.

Merrickville

Occasionally we will be struck by wild hairs and end up in some very interesting places. Usually we're driving along minding our own business when we will see a road sign pointing to this or that feature. A turn of the wheel and off we go on another adventure, not really sure where we're going or when we'll get there but having fun none the less.

Yesterday was one of those days and the interesting place turned out to be Historic Merrickville on the Rideau Canal. We followed the rather obscure signage and found ourselves in a town full of interesting shops made even more interesting by their architecture. Many of the buildings were of stone and dated from the building of the Rideau Canal, late in the 1800's. I spent as much time gawking as I did shopping.

The most interesting shop was Mrs. McCariggles Mustard Shop, home of the handmade gourmet mustards. They also housed a fine selection of candies, kitchenware, and chutneys and sauces from around the world. The shop was full to overflowing with interesting things to look at and really tasty sampling stations throughout the store. The kitchen where all the mustards are made was visible at the back of the shop where 5 gallon pails lined the walls and stainless steal gleamed.

The next most interesting shop was the Knick Knock shop. They carried various home decorator items, some furniture, and different sizes of quilts and throws. This shop wasn't interesting for its wares as it was for the architecture of the building. Climbing the stairs to the furniture showroom we were greeted by the vaulted ceiling, stencilled ceiling moulding, and tongue and groove planks laid out in a zigzag pattern. I must say we spent more time in the up stairs looking at the original decor than we did shopping for one of a kind pieces of furniture.

Unfortunately, the majority of stores lock up at 5pm so we missed one or two shops we had hoped to visit, including the Wood -N- Feathers Creations in Wood. We did peak in the window and saw the hints of a truly unique shopping experience had we made it there in time. As we plan to visit the Mustard shop again, there will be other chances to see the woodcarvings on display and delve into the more mysterious sections of the shop, not easily seen with my nose plastered against the glass as I tried to see into the darkened store.

Definitely a trip worth the time it takes to get there. Next time we'll bring a camera so we can photograph the old buildings, the canal, and maybe we'll even visit the Blockhouse Museum. If you decide to visit Merrickville, bring your appetite and some spending money as you'll find plenty of things to see and buy.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Beets

The weather has been terribly hot and miserable this last few days. So much so that we had to get outside at 7am to try to beat the heat. It was already hot but at least it was cooler than the predicted high of 35ºC. That's 95ºF for those still on the imperial system. With the humidity they are expecting temperatures to feel like 45ºC (113ºF) before noon today. That is unreal in this part of the world.

Back to 7am this morning. We had to thin the beets and carrots today. They've really put on a growth spurt over the last few weeks and the roots were starting to touch each other in the ground. We pulled about half of the beets and ended up with 10-15lbs of beets after they were washed and their leaves removed. We were able to save a pot full of beet greens for supper today too. We plan to eat a few of the beets for supper as well but the rest will be pickled using my favourite recipe from the "Company's Coming : Preserves" cookbook.

We didn't get many usable carrots but we do have enough for a salad topping or maybe I'll throw them into the pickling solution too. All in all I think we might have gotten a pound of carrots. Only one or two of them were truly ready to be harvested but we had to thin them in hopes of getting a decent sized crop later this fall.

Pickled Beets adapted from Company's Coming:Preserves Cookbook
Wash and sterilize 10 pint jars, or 7 quart jars, lids and rings in boiling water.
10lb Beets Cooked, skinned, and sliced 1/4 inch thick
4.5 cps Cider Vinegar
2 cps Water
3 3/4 cps White Sugar
2 1/2 tsp Salt
1 1/4 tsp Mustard Seed
1 1/4 tsp Celery Seed

Combine vinegar, salt, water, and sugar in a large saucepan. Place the mustard and celery seed into a muslin bag and add to the saucepan. Bring everything to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove bag before moving to the next step.

Fill jars with sliced beets leaving an inch of space between beets and the rim of the sterilized jar. Carefully pour the hot syrup over the beets covering them completely. Leave 1/2 inch space between the liquid and the jar rim. Wipe the rim with a clean cloth and carefully place a lid and ring onto the jar. Tighten the ring.

Place all the filled jars into a boiler bath canner. Fill the canner with enough liquid to cover the jars by two inches. Place lid on canner and bring to a boil. Boil the filled jars for 30 minutes. Remove the canner from the heat and carefully lift the jars from the water, placing them gently onto a towel covered counter. Let them cool completely.

As the jars cool the canning lids will make a loud POP sound and the lid will appear to bow in toward the contents of the jar. This means the jar is sealed and the contents will now last as long as needed before you eat them. Any jar that does not seal can be left in the refrigerator until they are ready to be eaten.

Let the beets sit in a dark pantry for 3-4 weeks before opening the jar and serving them. They are great served cold as a pickle or hot as a side dish. We like to pour the contents into a saucepan and heat gently. As they heat up add onions and/ or garlic. Serve the beets with a dash of butter or thicken the juice up with arrowroot powder or cornstarch to make deep red sauce to be poured back over the beets.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Vacation Time is Here

Every summer we take two weeks off from work to try to catch up on the various projects we have on the go. That time has come. We will be off from work for the next two weeks.

This year we are getting a survey done in preparation for installing a fence next year. We also have some trees being removed from the yard for safety reasons. Other than that we plan to work in the garden and the yard and hopefully get a couple of days of relaxation in. Who knows maybe we'll even paint an interior wall or two.

In the mean time, I'll only update Sparrow Haven if new or interesting things happen. Otherwise, see you all in two weeks.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

People Watching

I had the opportunity to do some people watching this weekend and my observations amazed me, as they have each time I have had this opportunity. People today are oblivious to the world in general around them, regardless of whether they are doing something that requires their attention or not. More often than not these people don't really effect anyone except for the casual observer. But sometimes, those people suffering from obliviousness will leave a wake of chaos, destruction, and occasionally death in their wakes.

People driving vehicles along the road but having no idea where they are going or what is happening around them are the ones that frighten me the most. More than once someone would pull into the far left lane only to suddenly turn on their right hand turn signal and turn the steering wheel hard right. Or talking on a cellphone, while driving, and they would run through red lights or suddenly turn left or right cutting off someone who had the right of way.

In the town nearest us there is a phenomena called the "Cornwallian Left". It is what happens when someone is sitting in the uncontrolled left hand turn lane, when the red light turns to green. The people going straight ahead have the right away but the person sitting in the turn lane will gun it taking their left turn before anyone moves. Anyone who has lived here a while will wait an extra 10 seconds letting the lane ahead clear.

But, let a tourist or a recent addition to the town be in the straight lane and a serious accident will occur. This is a case of neither drivers being very observant. The guy going left thinks his life and his problems are the most important and so he breaks the law. The driver going straight isn't paying attention to the road and doesn't see that that the other driver is moving before he or she too hits the gas and ploughs ahead. Before you know it there is glass and twisted metal all over the road, and both drivers are screaming "It was your fault" at the tops of their lungs.

The more benign moments of obliviousness can be more funny than anything else. We decided to stop in town for lunch. At the lunch counter I watched several people walk up to the clearly marked exit door and try to come inside. Now obviously this had been a problem in the past as the door had the exterior door handle removed. What was amusing was how angry these people would get until someone kindly, or not so kindly, pointed out that the entrance door was on the side of the building.

But, all these observations got me to thinking about the past and what would have happened to these people back in the hunter gatherer days, or even just a few hundred years ago. People who were not aware of their surroundings would end up dead due to accident or starvation. Even those who were very aware of their surroundings suffered from calamity but those who walked through the world in a dream didn't survive very long, and rarely long enough to have children. The children were taught to be aware as well. But, somewhere along the way we lost that over powering need to pay attention.

Now don't get me wrong. I suffer from obliviousness on occasion as do most people. Perhaps I am luckier than most people. I work in a job where not paying attention will get you killed by crushing or electrocution and so I have a tendency to be very focused on my work. Unfortunately, I can be to focused sometime as I tend to miss the more subtle things going on around me, but at least those subtle things won't kill me.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Garden Journal: July 8 - 14, 2007

The garden is going gang busters this week. We're starting to get into the busy time of year when we have more produce coming in than we can keep up with by eating. When that happens we freeze, can, or dry everything and put it away for another day.

We've had to pick peas every other day to keep up with them. Today we took this weeks harvest of peas and froze them in 1.5 cup measures. We ended up with 6 bags of peas. From the looks of the vines when I picked this morning we'll be getting at least that many more next week.

The cherry tomatoes have almost peaked out but we still have a large bowl full sitting in the fridge. I plan to dry them in our American Harvest dehydrator. Once they are dried I will pack them in olive oil and store them in the fridge to be added to any tomato based sauces we eat over the next couple of months.

We finally picked the red currants from our lone bush. They are quite juicy but very tart. We ended up with two cups so this morning I made a batch of bread with half the currants and some dried strawberries. The bread is rising nicely on the counter and will make a nice treat, toasted and buttered, for breakfast during the week.

We also got our first taste of fresh beets this year. We planted four rows of them and they have been growing nicely. When it came time to thin them out we found that most were 1/2 inch to 1 inch in diameter. We had them for dinner along with the more tender beet greens. They tasted deliscious and I really can't wait until it is time to thin the rows again.

Beet greens can be cooked just like spinach and have a similar flavour. We sauted them in butter along with onions and the baby beets themselves.

Sauted Baby Beets and Beet Greens
1/2 a small onion
1 Tbsp of butter
1/2 teaspoon of salt
baby beets
greens from baby beets

Boil the baby beets just long enough to make them easy to peel. A fork should just be able to pierce the skin. Pop them under cold running water and use your fingers to wipe the skins away.
Dice up the onions and saute them in the butter until brown. Add the beets and the greens. Stir until the greens are wilted much like spinach and the butter has coated the beets and greens nicely. Salt the salad and serve warm.

This recipe can also be used with large beets cut into quarters. If the beets don't have greens attached then you can use fresh spinach instead. It is a great side to any meal and is packed with all kinds of vitamins and minerals.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Garden Journal: July 1 - 7, 2007

This has been a great week in the garden. We've gotten enough rain that we only had to water the garden, and various containers, once. The tomatoes are really starting to produce and I have little green tomatoes all over the place. Even all the containers on the front porch have bloomed and are starting to put out fruit. The butternut squash has bloomed. I wasn't sure if it was going to make it considering we lost the other two but it is doing really well. The potatoes are bushing out nicely and I expect to see blooms on them any day now.

The best thing this week is the harvest. On Wednesday we picked a pound of cherry tomatoes and about 2 lbs of green peas. Of course, once we shelled them we only ended up with 1.5 to 2 cups of actual peas. But, there are plenty more on the vine plumping up as I type so I'll be harvesting more peas later this week and perhaps even twice this week. If it wasn't raining today I'd have picked peas today.

I've found an interesting recipe for the cherry tomatoes I'd like to share with you. It is a salad to serve at room temperature as a side but I could see it as a topping for pasta as well.

Cherry Tomato Salad
1 lb Cherry Tomatoes - sliced in half
1 cup of Feta Cheese - 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cp Sweet Onions - diced
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Tbsp fresh Thyme - chopped finely
2 Tbsp fresh Basil - chopped finely

Combine tomatoes, cheese, onions, and herbs in a bowl. Slowly drizzle the oil over the mixture and stir. Use only enough oil to make the herbs stick to the rest of the ingredients. Serve room temperature or slightly cooled. Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Trellis Window Brace

As stated in a previous post I spend a few hours a night in front of the TV and while sitting there I carve. It keeps my hands busy and my mind free, for the most part. I have finally completed my third window brace decorative carving and thought I would share it with you.

As with the previous two braces, this is made from a scrap piece of pine. The widest point is approximately 3 inches and the narrowest is only 3/4 inch or so. I started carving this piece in March and only finished the carving in mid-June. The staining and sealing took another two weeks as I wanted all coats to be good and dry before I put on the next coat.

I hope you enjoy looking at these as much as I like carving them.

Right Side - trellis and flower pattern.
Step Risers - a traditional border pattern.
Left Side- alternating positive and negative four spoke stars.
Long Riser - same traditional border pattern as the step risers, just a longer run of it.
Overview picture showing over all shape and size of the brace. That is my hand stealing a cherry tomato, which I picked from our garden yesterday :)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Canada Day

Yesterday we celebrated Canada Day by inviting a coworker over for a BBQ. It was a lovely day; neither to hot nor to cool. The food was delicious and plentiful. But the best part of the day was the show that all the feathered and furred put on for our visitor.

As we prepared the food and chatted the birds flew in and almost as if it was planned creating a formation of small, medium, and large as they landed at the bird feeders. We had sparrows, grackles, red-wing blackbirds, doves, and even a male cardinal land on the feeder nearest to where we sat.

Behind us, a young red squirrel claimed the ground under another feeder. He defended it from all comers until he had his fill. He didn't seem to mind us turning to watch him stuff his little cheeks full and even turned his back to us to watch a grey squirrel as it sneaked closer to the area. He spent several minutes watching the other squirrel before deciding it was to close to his feeder and gave chase.

The platform feeder was quite popular yesterday with the red-winged blackbirds, pigeons, and grackles. Occasionally the sparrows would dart in to pick out a favourite seed then dart away. When the male cardinal wasn't feeding at the station nearest us, he was picking through the safflower and sunflower seeds in the hanging platform feeders.

There was a large group of sparrows who didn't have food on their minds. There was love in the air yesterday for this rather noisy band of courters. We don't know if this is the first clutch of the spring adding their offspring to the local population or if these were the parents of the first hatching looking to create another clutch. Sparrows are quite the rapacious rascals and have been know to have as many as four hatchings before the fall migration begins.

Even the resident chipmunk made an appearance yesterday. He darted in and out of the woodpile collecting seeds from here at there. It isn't often that we see him near the bird feeders but on occasion he'd dart in to stuff his face and off to hide them for the winter. I feel sorry for him as the woodpile he is using as his winter larder will be moved soon to make room for our next delivery of firewood.

Even the garden was putting on a show yesterday. Every tomato plant is in bloom and many have small green tomatoes visible under the foliage. The peas have recovered from the excessive heat and are putting out pods all over the place. Every pea plant has at least three pods. They will be ready for picking over the next few days. The beets are a good ten inches tall and the leaves are starting to get a reddish tinge to the edges that indicate that the beet root is finally beginning to develop. Soon enough we will be enjoying the first baby beets of the season.

All in all it was one of the best Canada Day celebrations we have ever had. The addition of our friend and coworker only made the day that much better. We didn't have fireworks but who needs fireworks when you have the loud, amusing antics of the local fauna to help you celebrate freedom and independence.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A little Pick-Me-Up for the Kitchen

We have a kitchen that has seen many renovations over the years. Some of these renovations have been terrible, while others were great for their day but old and dated now. The countertop is old, warped, and in some places chipped. The cabinets themselves are a mix of 1970's wood and DIY nightmare from sometime prior to us purchasing the house.

I want to renovate the kitchen but finances and other priorities have prevented me from getting started. Those priorities do not prevent me from spend a few minutes and some cash to dress up the kitchen a bit. This past weekend was one of those days where everything just seemed to work out perfectly to do just that.

We went to Home Depot for from stain for another project and found a great deal on. There are these little 4 x4 acrylic stickers to go onto tiles to change the colour or to add some flash to dull white tiles. Normally these stickers run $3 or #4 a piece. This weekend they were $1. They also carry packs eight stickers that create a scene. While some of them are very pretty I'm not going to spend $40 a set. I will spend $10 on a set. So I picked up a nice looking country kitchen rooster, that just happens to match my kitchen clock.

The new look definitely perks the look of the kitchen up. We will still be renovating sometime in the future but for now the kitchen has a new look. If nothing else the brightness of the decorative stickers draws the eyes away from the cabinets and countertop.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Garden Journal: June 17 -24, 2007

The garden is crusing along quite nicely. Right now we are in the maintenance stages between planting and harvesting. We pull a few weeds, water, and pick the occasional ripe produce. Our biggest concern right now is the number of earwigs, squash beetles, and other noxious pests we have in the garden. This is the time of year where we spend more time in pest control than in enjoying the fruits of our labour.

I have read that an effective earwig trap can be made using a tin can. You bury the tine can so that only the very top edge of the lip is above the ground. Put a small amount of water, about a quarter inch, in the can and sit back. Apparently, the earwigs are moisture seekers and will fall into the can trying to get to the water. In the process they get trapped in there. When there are more bugs and water you throw the can away and put another in its place. I guess it is time to test the earwig trap.

Other than mainenance on the garden, there is maintenance on the yard and this is the time of year we get all those other warm weather projects started. PeterC primed the cedar siding we installed a few weeks ago. It will dry until next weekend and as long as it isn't raining he'll get the painting done. After that he pulled out the mower, hedge trimmers, and spin trimmer. The yard always looks so nice the day after he finishes mowing and such.

While he was working on the yard, I was busy with my own projects. I now have three window braces in varying stages of complettion, waiting only for the stains and polyurethanes to dry. I also started the next stage in finishing the dining room table and chairs we bought last year.

The wooden table top and chairs were oiled over the winter using Tung oil. Yesterday, I applied the first coat of Oak stain. I'm using a stain that has polyurethane in it to make a nice durable finish that will hold up to years of abuse. I plan to put a total of three coats of stain on the wood and to finish it up with a clear coat of rub on polyurethane and finally a good old fashioned hand buffing.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Garden Journal: June 10 - 16, 2007

It's been one of those weeks when the temperature gets up to 30C in the shade but cools down to 15C at night. The tomatoes are loving it, as are the beets and carrots. The peas, lettuce, and spinach on the other hand, have stopped growing. Today we had to pull up spinach that had already bolted, gone to seed.

Luckily, I found a solution. We bought two sheets of shade cloth from Lee Valley in Ottawa and installed them so that they give a very light shade to the entire bed. It is a loose weave of some kind of nylon. THe plants still get plenty of light, and rain can drip through when we get some of those "Pop Up Thunderstorms" they are always predicting on the Weather Network.

PeterC is very proud of "his" potatoes. I must admit they are growing quite well and seem to be tolerating the heat well. Earlier this week he added a few shovels full of soil to surround the young potato plants. This is called mounding and is supposed to give the developing tubers a place to grow completely out of the sun. Some sources suggest this will let the potato plant produce more. We shall see.

It's been so hot, so early this year that we decided a small pool would do wonders for those hot humid days when we can't get up enough energy to care, much less do any real work. Swimming used to be an option down at the river but the number of boats, seadoos, and fishermen have made it impossible to swim there any longer.

Unfortunately, we have discovered that squirrels and swimming pools do not mix. Our little Lost Soul has still been hanging around the yard, though not as bold and tame as he once was. At some point yesterday, after PeterC came inside after starting the pool filling up, Lost Soul either got curious or slipped off his high wire highway while over the pool and went for a swim.

When PeterC went out to check on the progress he found a very wet and very tired squirrel swimming circles around the outside edge of the pool. Either the poor thing was out of his mind or something told him he could get help from the human staring at him with a rather dumbfounded look on his face. Either way the squirrel swam straight to where PeterC was standing. PeterC quickly grabbed a nearby flower basket and gently scooped the panting furling out of the water.

PeterC tipped the squirrel onto the ground where he lay panting for few minutes. Once he was able to move again, he climbed 2 feet up the trunk of the Horse Chestnut and there he stayed for several more minutes. When PeterC took the picture the squirrel moved further up the tree and found a safe crook where he could recover from his adventures. We've purchased a tarp to cover the pool, but I suspect this squirrel will be a little more careful with his footing from now on.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Upper Canada Village

We made the first of several trips to Upper Canada Village yesterday. We like to visit the village at least twice a year but three times a year lets us visit the village in each of the important seasons. The village is closed during the Winter except for a special Christmas lights show.

For us, UC Village is a link to the past of the area but it also gives us ideas on ways we can do things if our dream of owning a homestead ever comes true. It is a a place to dream and scheme, and learn. Every trip to UC Village brings on a new bouts of insights, thoughts, and questions. Luckily, most actors in the village are willing to answer your questions and most are very knowledgeable.

Each time we visit the village we spend time in different ways. Last year it was the gardens scattered throughout the village. This year it was the tenant farm, the shoemaker's shop, the ladies spinning and dying, and finally the ladies making a wedding quilt for one of the village girls. Don't get me wrong, we visit almost every location in the village. But, we tend to spend more time in a few locations whereas the others we look around and leave again.

The thing about the village is your lose yourself and the outside rat race for awhile. We had only planned on being there for a couple of hours during the coolest part of the day. When we finally decided it was time to go we looked at our watches and realized we had been there for 5 hours already. I suspect visiting the village is the closest I will ever come to time travel, and I love it.

If you want to see more photos from yesterdays trip just click on the link where you can point and click to view the images individually. Or, you can Choose View Slideshow if you want to see all the photos, each for 3 secs.-> UC Village June 2007.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Garden Journal: May 28-June 3, 2007

It feels strange to go days and weeks without writing a garden entry once spring arrives but in all honesty, once the seeds are planted there isn't much you can do except weed and feed. That is exactly what we've been doing this week. When it isn't to hot out we spend 1/2 hr each afternoon weeding the garden or watering it if it has been dry.

This week I have at least an update on how the garden grows. With the heat and the rain of late, the tomatoes are really starting to bush out. As are the potatoes. The peas and spinach like the rain but not so much the heat. They have grown quite a bit in the last week, and it looks like a proper garden instead of raised beds of dirt.

The lettuce is, well sitting there. We have one plant that is several inches tall. We have a whole row of plants that are the same size they have been for over a month. They are barely past the sprout stage, half the size of the spinach. I think it has to do with the heat so I have placed a row cover over the lettuce and one row of spinach. The sides are pushed up so it gets plenty of light but no direct sun. I'm crossing my fingers this solves the problem and the lettuce begins to grow soon.

I do have a contingency plan, in case the lettuce decides it is to much trouble to grow. We have three containers by the garage that get only 3 or 4 hours of sun a day. Today, while it was still cool and the boxes were still on the shade, I planted Prizehead and Grand Rapids varieties of loose leaf lettuce along with a few radishes in each box. The loose leaf lettuce matures faster than the head lettuce I planted in the garden and is a little more heat tolerant. If luck prevails we'll be eating our own home grown lettuce in 45 days.

The rest of the plants all seem to be doing pretty well. The herbs are starting to put out new growths and I have only lost one planting of Sweet Basil. Of the three butternut squash we planted, one has died and another was broken during a high wind. The broken plant was propped with with some dirt and is putting out new leaves, but it is only half the size of the final plant. This last plant seems to be growing very well indeed and I look forward to our own squash this fall.

The thunderstorm doesn't appear to have caused any damage to the garden at all. There is a little dirt splashed up on the lower leaves but otherwise everyone has pulled through. Considering how much all the plants have grown in the last few days I suspect they enjoyed the heavy rain as it penetrated the layers of mulch and dirt to feed their little root systems.

Speaking of mulch. We tried a new kind of mulch this year that I had high hopes for. The shredded pine has a tendency to not hold the moisture in as well as I would prefer. The new mulch, Cocoa Shells, has done a great job of that. The soil is very moist underneath. The only problem is the sour smell the shells give off when disturbed and the white mold inside the mulch layer. It doesn't seem to be affecting the plants any at all but it is definitely something that has to be put on only after all digging and planting has been completed.

One final note. I have added a link in the sidebar to a website that allows you to diagnose tomato plant diseases by choosing the appropriate picture. I found it very useful and not only does it tell you what is wrong with the plant but it also gives you a treatment. Unfortunately, the treatments are all non-organic in nature. But, in my experience knowing what is wrong is half the battle to solving the problem.