Friday, November 28, 2008

Of Pumpkins and Neurotic Dogs

I've been working on canning pumpkin for the last weeks weeks. Between the amount of time it takes to process each pumpkin, and the fact that I ran out of jars, this project is taking a long time. Unfortunately I have managed to turn our normally happy mop dog into a shivering pile of jelly during this project.

You see Muffet is a neurotic dog. We found out the day we brought her home from the local SPCA shelter that doorbells send her into fits of shrill and annoying barking. A few weeks later our fire alarm went off in the middle of the night. Muffet tried to teleport outside by slamming herself into the back door repeatedly and when I finally opened it she ran blindly as far away from the house as she could get. We finally found her a couple of kilometres away.

The next trigger we found by accident the following canning season. We were doing our normal canning and when the jars made their characteristic POP, as they sealed, Muffet became unglued. The first pop caused her to shiver and pant. The second pop made her start running back and forth between the front and back door. The third pop, well lets just say I had to clean doggy body prints off the back door. But canning season is normally fairly short and she got over it pretty quick, until the following season.

This year is another story. Each load of pumpkin takes 1.5 hours to cook at 10lbs pressure. That is a lot of time for Muffet to drive her self insane with fretting. Then it takes almost an hour for each load to cool off enough to open the canner and pull out the jars, which then start sealing over the next two hours. Each pumpkin is so large that it takes at least two loads to can it all which means two days of canning per pumpkin.

I've only managed to process two pumpkins so far and already Muffet is so wired that I can't stand in the kitchen, doing normal kitchen stuff, without her beginning to shiver and pant. If she sees me handle the canner or handle canning jars, she goes nuts wanting outside. Yesterday, I put her outside with our big dog, who prefers to be outside during the day in a kennel, while the canner was at pressure. When it was time to come inside she refused to obey and had to be physically picked up and brought inside.

To give Muffet, and myself, a break from the sound of the canner at pressure I have decided to make pumpkin soup out of the third pumpkin. It will still be canned but not for a couple of days as I cook the pumpkin, add vegetable stock, add various vegetables and spices, and finally cook the whole thing down to a thick soup of pureed vegetables. It'll be nice to have this winter and, like I said, it will give both of us a chance to unwind and not have to worry about the canner for awhile.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Zipper Impaired

Today broke partly cloudy and cold. The temperature was hovering just above -10ºC, there was a hard frost on the already frozen ground, and there was enough of a wind to make it that much colder on exposed flesh. Of course today is also the day I realized, at 6:00 am, that I am completely incapable of doing up my own coat zipper.

I've always had a bumbling finger approach to doing up a zipper, and that is when I am fully awake. This morning, still half asleep, I was freezing as the wind blew oh so freely around my exposed torso. I struggled for several minutes, much to PeterC's amusement, with simple "insert tab A into slot B" instructions managing only to get Tab A firmly and resolutely stuck halfway into Slot B. Several tries, and a plaintive cry for help, later my coat was finally zipped shut and the cold air locked out.

I think next time I'll just ask for help first. It will be easier on the zipper, and my ego.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Trying to Learn a New Craft

It has been another normal November weekend so far. The wind is the cold, the sky is leaking, and this morning the sky's tears have a little ice mixed in. In other words it is not a weekend for working outside. So I have spent the weekend doing indoor things like putzing around on my computer and cleaning the house. I've also been trying to learn Tablet Weaving.

I am making PeterC gifts for the upcoming holidays and I thought it would be really cool to weave him a nice thick neck scarf from cotton yarn. The neck scarves in the stores are all so flimsy and I find them next to useless. But, a thick cotton scarf should work very nicely. I researched various forms of weaving some months ago and decided that Tablet Weaving would allow me to not only weave a scarf, but to also include a nice pattern since it is so versatile.

My first practise piece was only a couple of inches square and the pattern was pretty plain, but once cut off the loom it held together very well. It reminds me of course woven fabrics I've seen in museums, on archaeology shows, and at the Medieval Fair I attended at Upper Canada Village. I could easily see wearing a shirt made from fabric woven in this style. I think it would be very cozy and warm.

So, flush with the success of my first attempt, I decided to plunge on ahead with the scarf idea. I decided on the pattern I wanted and chose some dark and light cotton that I already had on hand and started trying to warp the loom. First I cut each thread to length, then I threaded each card with the appropriate thread colours, and then....well things came to a crawl at this point.

It turns out that the loom I made, one using spindles to hold the length of the yarn is harder to warp than I first imaged. My practise piece had been quite short and I was able to easily warp the loom. With the scarf I am trying to wrap, and keep in order, 5 feet of 70 threads and have them all the same tightness. After trying several times, and making a "comb" to keep the threads from tangling with each other, I was finally able to get the loom warped at around 10pm last night. This was all done over the last two days so in all I think I spent between 12 and 15 hours trying to warp the loom.

Now that the loom was warped and all the threads were nice and tight I started weaving. Of course after the fourth pass through the shed, the space between the upper and lower threads, I realized the threads were to far apart and the weave was going to be to loose. So I spent the next hour pulling out the weft, untwisting the cords, and pulling the threads closer together.

By the time I was finished it was late and I put it away until today. Hopefully, after I get some chores done, I'll spend several hours this afternoon actually weaving. If this project slows down any more than it already has I'm afraid PeterC will be getting this scarf NEXT year instead of this winter. Here's hoping nothing else goes wrong, knock on wood.

Blog Award

What do you know? Penny over at Back to Basic Living awarded Sparrow Haven the "Premium Dardo" blog award. I feel pretty honoured that she feels this blog deserves the award.
“With the Premium Dardos, recognize the values that each blogger shows each day in commitment to transmit cultural values, ethical, literary, personal etc. that, in short, demonstrate their creativity by alive thinking that remains intact from their letters and words. ”

Unfortunately, I don't think I can accept the award since the rules require choosing 15 other blogs to award it to and honestly, I don't read 15 blogs. I only read 6 blogs on a regular basis, though in the future that may increase in number as I find more interesting blogs. The rules in accepting this award are:

1. Accept the award and post it on your blog along with a link to the person who has awarded you.
2. Pass the award on to 15 other blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgement. Remember to contact each of them to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sparrow Haven Smoked Meat

It was a dreary and wet weekend, to wet to do anything in the yard except run the smoker. We took the thickest three corned beefs and smoked them for 6 hours using pecan wood chips. If you have never smelled pecan wood burning then you are missing out. It is now my favourite wood for smoking beef.

After the smoking was done we brought them into the house, since it was getting dark outside, wrapped them in foil and placed them in a 200ºF oven for 4 hours. We turned the oven off and left them to finish cooking as they slowly cooled off. The house smelled so good my stomach growled most of the night and I couldn't wait to slice them for sandwiches.

Yesterday evening we pulled out our little electric slicer and sliced all three roasts as thin as possible. Unfortunately the slicer we have isn't great so we could only get 1/8 inch slices at best. After the meat was sliced we set up several sandwich packs, picking the largest and leanest slices, to be frozen for later use. The really fatty pieces and the small pieces that couldn't be used for sandwiches were packed into a separate bag to be mixed in with potatoes to make smoked meat hash.

Of course we tasted a few pieces and kept some out to make sandwiches for today. Over all I am happier with this years product than last years. Last year's meat was very salty and had a bitter rind from the smoking. This year's product is barely salty and the rind is sweet rather than bitter. Did I mention pecan is now my favourite wood for smoking? "Montreal Style Smoked Meat" move over. There is a new kid in town.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Fall Chores

We were blessed with a week of warm weather so I've been trying to finish up the fall chores before the next wave of rain hits. Fall is normally a rainy season here and it gets hard to get the basic chores done before the winter sets in. More often than not we leave a layer of leaves on the ground and the garden doesn't get turned until the following spring. On top of all that I decided it was time to move the large wooden compost bin to another low section of the yard.

If you want to find out how in shape you are, try moving 500lbs of dirt with a wheelbarrow and a shovel. I found out the hard way that I am not in as good a shape as I should be. Right now my thighs and lower back are stiff and sore. Stiff enough to make PeterC smirk when he sees me trying to get down the stairs. I can't blame him, since I do look really silly trying to navigate the stairs without bending my legs to much.

So over the last few days I have successfully, if painfully, managed to get a good portion of chores done. I've moved the compost bin; spread the dirt from the bin throughout the lower areas of the yard; removed the fencing from the garden beds; turned the soil in the second garden bed; emptied the soil from the smaller kitchen waste bins into the first bed; started turning the soil in the third bed; and planted a rhubarb root ball given to me by an ex-coworker. Even with all that I still have plenty to do and only another day or two of warm, but wet weather to get it all done in.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Tiny Wood Turtle

Title: Turtle
Wood Species: Basswood
Technique: Standard Carving using a knife
Finishing: None

I started this little turtle as a practise piece in carving in the round. It is not something I am very good at so I need as much practise as possible. During the carving of this piece I managed to cut off a front leg, a back leg, his tail, and a rather large part of the tip of my finger. Luckily the wood glued back well and the finger has healed, though there is a scar.

The finished piece is 1.5 " x 1.5" x 1" in total.

Spiral Heart Spoon

Title: Spiral Heart Spoon
Wood Species: Butternut
Technique: Standard Carving using a knife
Finishing: NaturOil

This is the first time I have carved Butternut. It was harder than I am used to but the results are lovely. The colour and grain of the wood makes it well worth the extra effort it takes to carve.

The spoon is 12" long and 2.5" wide at the widest point of the bowl.