Thursday, September 30, 2010

Unposted post

My sister just posted about finding "drafts" in her post listings. Things that weren't quite finished for whatever reason. So I checked my list and found a few as well.

Including this one from April 2009.

I just want to rip out the bathroom.

I know that we can't afford to re-do the bathroom yet, and we can't start ripping things out until the other bathroom has a useable shower, but every little thing that goes wrong would be easier to fix if we started over.

The day after we moved into our house, a note was dropped into the mailbox from the previous owners. "Do not use anything stronger than dish detergeant on the painted bathtub". Thanks a lot. We'd already scrubbed it clean the previous day with normal strong bathroom cleanser.

Maybe this wouldn't have happened if we forever-after used
only dish soap on the tub, but we now have a white and pink tub. White paint
over the original pink. I don't know how hygenic that is because I imagine stuff
gets under the paint that can't be washed off, but I have a healthy relationship
with germs and bacteria. It builds our immune systems, right? But it is
embarassing and I try to keep the shower curtain closed.

That bath area I imagine to be our largest expense in the room to replace because all of the drywall feels spongy behind our tub surround.....

Hmm, interesting. In spite of having no sudden influx of funding, this is what our upstairs bathroom looks like today.

Lovely, isn't it? After cleaning up the debris and spraying anti-mold stuff on the studs, I did what I've always done since moving in here. I hung up the shower curtain ... and closed it.

Things changed a bit in the last little while to make this bathroom more of a priority, although I still would have liked to work on the basement first. The hot water faucet in the tub needed a new washer, and then the faucet was stuck in the "on" position. It wasn't easily fixable, so we just turned the shut-off valve at the hot water tank. We lived virtually without hot water for three weeks, turning it on when we needed baths.

I did a temporary fix on the shower in the basement. Now we can shower there and a friend cut off the pipes to the tub upstairs. Work began right away this week. We'll do most of it ourselves, but I also realize that we will have to rely on the knowledge of our friends too.

Once I ripped out the drywall today, the whole project seems so much less intimidating. We do have to hurry a bit though because the basement shower is truly a temporary fix. I'll keep you posted on our progress.

And now for something more lovely.

Thister Thuzy thitting on a thistle is heard alot since yesterday.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Too many apples?

What was I thinking when I signed up with OFRE? The raspberries were great, and I think I'll have to juice some tiny pears, but I do not need more apples. I have picked with them twice now and I've given up the apples that I was allowed to take. The apples have been great, but I've got my own sources.

Here's the thing. In the last two years I've felt the need to connect with community more. I've got my church community, but I thought there was a need to do something within my own geographic neighbourhood.

So I joined the community league executive. My role is minimal, but it's connected me with a group of people I didn't know before. The community garden idea led to more connections, that eventually became an active gardening club. From that, I was led to the yard in which I grew vegetables and have another yard offered to me for next year with a bigger bed. I've also met someone with a most awesome apple tree. And she doesn't use the apples, although I'm not sure why exactly.

So, I picked once at her home alone, and once with a church friend (connecting my neighbourhood with my church community). I now have apples to spare.

What do you do with too many apples?

I make pie filling and apple sauce.

I made four apple crisps for the neighbour with the tree, a pie for us and a pie for our 18 year old neighbour.

And I made many quarts of apple cider with OFRE at a juicing party (and there's another this weekend if anyone is interested). This was hard physical work, but really fun to do as a group.

And I juiced a few quarts for myself as well, the kids have been eating dried apples every day and today they ate this yummy cake after school.

Fat-free Butterscotch Brownies

1/2 cup apple sauce
2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Cream the apple sauce with the sugar and then add the eggs
and vanilla. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
Pour into a greased 9 x 13 pan (shoot - I guess it's not fat-free!) and bake at
350F for 30 minutes.

And today with some of my excess, I delivered a box to the school for hungry kids at lunch, another box to a friend who has no tree, and another box to a local church with a community kitchen. I suspect they'll be making pies at their next get-together.

For all the things people do and give me, it does feel good to pass the love along to others who need it.

It's funny how one small act of building community can grow into something so much larger. It's a good thing, but as I see need everywhere, I'm so tempted to get involved everywhere and I need to develop a few boundaries for myself.

Maybe I'll try that next year.... I don't have time for that sort of self-reflection right now. I've still got apples in the basement and carrots in the garden and two bathrooms to renovate.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Counting your chickens before they hatch

Or despair.

Or hope?

I proudly weighed all of my tomatoes as I picked them, totalling about 150 pounds of green tomatoes. More than I've ever harvested.

Maybe even more than I could use, although that's never happened before. We eat tomatoes in lots of things. Pasta sauces, chili, tacos, salsa, soup, stew. I've made ketchup (mind you, that was by accident. Who knew that the Aussies called ketchup "tomato sauce"?) and chutneys galore. We eat at least one quart each week through the winter, and sliced fresh on sandwiches and in salads through the fall.

150 pounds. Almost all with late-harvest blight.

They looked fabulous when we picked them only a week or so ago. Tons of Roma and a box or two of beefsteak. I planned to bring some to my in-laws who accidently only planted romas. For the first time, my produce was going to return to the farm instead of travelling to my pantry in the city. It felt good to be able to share with my generous family.

And now I'm thinking, maybe not.

The day before I travelled, the blight started to reveal itself. It made me sick to see. It still does as it continues to show up in the boxes. I have to sort them again tomorrow and maybe make some green-tomato recipes out of what is salvagable.

I know that the supermarket is only walking distance away and I can buy tomatoes, canned or fresh, in juice or paste or ketchup. We won't starve. But it still makes me think of Ireland so long ago when they were hit with the same blight, wiping out all their potatoes. Did they pick some potatoes thinking all looked well? Did they celebrate their harvest with a feast? Did they store away their produce in cold cellars, only to look at them the next week and see them all bruised and rotting?

I can't really imagine what it would feel like to have your main staple rot away. I can't stop thinking of my own wasted crop even knowing that I've got other things to eat this winter.

I don't particularly like green tomatoes, but I've got to try. Tomorrow it will be green tomato pasta sauce. If it's good, I'll borrow a pressure canner and put some away. All other methods of saving them seem risky to me. The opinions vary so much that I'll play it fairly safe.


New crops

Every year I grow a different mix of vegetables, trying to find the right balance of what we actually eat. That means growing less of the failure-prone crops and the crops that we've decided we really don't eat often. For example, one year I grew enough kale to last years, and last year I had a ton of swiss chard which the kids won't eat unless I really hide it well. We don't really like to eat scarlet runner beans, but the kids like to snack on the flowers so I always grow just a few.

World's biggest sausage (Mundare, AB) as seen from it's kid-appropriate side

This year I discovered a new type of pole bean that doesn't look as pretty, but it tastes a lot better and takes less room than the typical green bean does. It's also easier to pick. I'm hoping some seed will be saved for me to try next year.

And then I like to experiment with a few new things.

World's largest Easter egg (Vegreville, AB)

Weatherwise, it was a bad year for me to experiment with squash. I did get two bush delicata squash and a handful of acorn squash, but not worth the space they took. None of the musk melons produced, nor did my zucchini. I may try them again though because this was not your typical year. Way more rain and less sun than usual.

However, it was a good year to try celery. A cold weather crop that requires steady moisture levels.

It was hit by frost a few times while I sat on a beach in Kelowna and drank wine, but it's doing just fine outside.

Lois Hole said that she prefers celery to look like celery and grow naturally rather than forced upright in boxes, so I tried that too. If that's the way the lovely lady grew it, it's good enough for me. It's not perfect. It's very leafy and there's not enough of a stalk to snack on really, but I've got a bit to freeze and a bit to keep in the fridge for soups and such.

My other success this year was with green peppers. I would have thought they needed more heat, but they did much better than expected.

Does anyone have any tips for growing better celery? What new things did you try this year?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Canning Fruit 101

If you've just returned from a trip to fruitville and come home with fruit that needs to be dealt with NOW, this is an awesome way to save your yummy fruit for another day. Can it.

You do need a few things, and some things just make life easier. Here's what I use (not the brand, just some of the stuff).

The little magnet device is for lifting hot, flat, sealing lids from the bowl. It doesn't work, but the idea is a good one. Pity the magnet is pathetic.

You can operate without a funnel, but it makes a mess unless you're a pro with a ladling lumpy hot substances. I'm not.

The jar lifter is totally useful. It's for lifting the jars out of the oven where I keep them hot while getting the fruit ready, and also for lifting the finished jars out of the water bath.

I don't find the rubberized tongs useful and I don't actually have the bottle cleaner. I just wash my jars in hot soapy water.

And this is necessary. The water bath canner.

It's essentially just a big, deep, enamel pot with a rack for up to seven jars (quarts or pints work best. The tiniest jam jars slip right through, but you can line the rack with a wash cloth). The rack lifts and rests on the sides of the pot when you are filling or emptying the rack. Use your rubber jar lifter for that. You lose less to broken jars or toppled jars than if you use regular tongs.

Okay, here's what I do and a bit of explanation. I'm not a scientist, but I've read some things and some things are easy enough to do, so why risk your health? Also, keep in mind that I'm not a perfectionist and am pretty lenient. You do what feels right for you.

I'll use peaches as an example since it's very fresh in my mind and the house is still humid from all the boiling.

Basically you create a simple syrup, fill jars with peeled peaches, cover them with the syrup and boil the jars for 15 minutes. Only read on if you need step-by-step instructions. It's a lot of steps that you only need if you haven't done this before.
  1. Set a big pot of water to boil for blanching the peaches.
  2. Fill your canner about halfway with water and put it to boil. It takes a while to boil.
  3. Fill another big pot with 4 cups of water and 2 cups of sugar. Boil it and then just let it simmer.
  4. Wash your jars. I used 14 pint jars for 20 pounds of peaches.
  5. Line a cookie sheet with a tea towel and place the jars on it and into the oven on 200 degrees until you are ready for them. I'm not sure that's hot enough to consider it sterile. If that bothers you, look up what you need to do. Some dish washers have a sterilization setting, and some people boil their jars for 10 minues. I don't bother and I haven't killed anyone yet.
  6. Fill your sink with really cold water. Even add ice if you've got it.
  7. Pour boiling water into a bowl with the flat lids. It softens the rubber and helps them to seal.
  8. Once your blanching pot is boiling, fill it with peaches and boil for about one minute.
  9. Scoop them out and put them in the sink. The cold water makes the peel separate from the flesh and it's easy to peel them.
  10. Fill the pot with your next bunch of peaches and peel them all once blanched.
  11. Slice the peaches into the hot sugar water solution. Technically you don't have to heat the peaches at all because you are still going to process them, but heating the fruit and liquid together helps to keep the fruit evenly suspended in the jar, instead of floating to the top.
  12. Fill the hot jars. 20 pounds of peaches filled 15 pint jars for me. Top up with the hot liquid, covering the peaches.
  13. Wipe the tops of the jars. If you've got anything on the edge, it will stop the jars from sealing. You don't want that.
  14. Put a hot, flat lid on the jar and screw on the ring. The ring doesn't need to be hot.
  15. By now the water bath has been boiling for a while. Fill the rack with up to 7 jars. Lower it into the boiling water. Make sure that there is at least 1" of water above the jars. Add more water if you need to.
  16. Boil for 15 minutes. Raise the rack or use your rubberized jar lifter to remove the jars. Keep them upright and allow them to seal. Each jar should "pop" within 30 minutes when the jars seal. If they don't seal, you can reprocess them with the next batch, washing the lid, wiping the top and making sure the jar and seal are undamaged.
That's it. That maybe sounds complicated, but it really isn't. If I can do it, so can you.
Things I don't do that your mom may have done:
  • Hot pack fruit without further processing.
  • Seal jars with wax.
  • Use a hot water bath for anything other than fruit or acidic tomatoes.
Remember that the fruit and veg that we preserve now are not the same as when our moms did. With the lovely use of chemicals on our products over the years and all the other hybridizing and messing about with nature, the PH levels of things have changed and so have the safety rules regarding preserving.
Things I don't do that the USFDA says you should:
  • Sterilize all of my equipment, or my kitchen. I'm clean, but not sterile.
  • Boil everything to death. They sometimes want you to boil them to a mushy state.
  • Buy new lids every time. I reuse them if they aren't dented or rusty or otherwise looking damaged.
Apparently botulism can't survive in fruit, so you don't have to worry about that. If it's gone off, it will be obvious when you open the jar a few months from now. Don't eat it then. You won't even be tempted.
You decide what's safe for you or what risks you feel comfortable taking.
That's it. Any questions?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Toilet humour

I'm too tired to enter a proper post, but I just returned from a fabulous trip to the wine country.

This is what we found in the back seat of our designated touring vehicle.

Sam, Sam, the lavatory man,
Chief inspector of the outhouse can.
Toilet paper, toilet paper, paper towel,
Listen to the rumble of the human bowel.

Deep down beneath the ground
Look at all the turdies just floating around.

Sam, Sam, the lavatory man
Picking up the poopies with his own bare hands.

I did not write that. It looks like it was written by the driver's daughter. Beth thought it worthy of memorization and I'm sure she shared it with her friends at school today. I just wanted to share the discovery with you.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

300 g of flour + 3 eggs

300 g of flour + 3 eggs or the equivalent in pureed green stuff (swiss chard, in this case)

And more of this.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sorrel soup and harvest

We are in heavy production mode in the kitchen and gardens right now. I'm drying and grating zuchini, freezing and drying leeks, picked half of the tomatoes, the onions and scallions are in the cold storage, and we tried the sorrel for the first time this week.

Sorrel isn't pretty to look at, so I didn't take any appealing pictures. I was given a few plants in the spring, stuck them beside the raspberries in the alley and they've done surprisingly well. And they tasted awesome in this soup. Tangy and almost lemon-y.

My Sorrel Soup

1/2 an onion
1 Tbsp oil
1 cup of chicken stock
2 cup of water
1 tsp salt
1 cup of blended leftover rice (this makes it creamy, but you can use flour I bet)
3 cups of chopped sorrel
1 tbsp sour cream

Cook the onion in oil. Add everything except the sorrel and sour cream. Boil and then add the sorrel. When soft, use an immersion blender and make it all smooth and creamy.

It's all approximate. Add more water if it's too thick or if your soup-hating kid suddenly wants a bowl. I would have added more veggies like carrots if I'd had any cleaned and ready to go. The sorrel is strong tasting so you don't really need to add anything more though. Add the scoop of sour cream in the individual bowls.

Beth says she no longer wants chicken soup when she's sick. Maybe she think the lemon-y taste is similar to the benefits of hot lemon and honey tea.

On another note, last night the girls and I spent some time pulling up tomato plants and picking all the green tomatoes. I still have about 15 plants to go that are more sheltered against the house, but I wanted to start pulling them all in and clearing sections of the garden.

This year I've been weighing my produce. I have four pounds of shallots (not great from the 1 pound of shallot sets, but more than I've ever had before) and five pounds of decent sized onions. And 50 pounds of tomatoes so far!

Then this morning, as I was flinging my coffee grounds into the garden as is my habit, I saw that we'd forgotten the biggest box outside! I re-weighed it all and I've got more than 80 pounds of green roma tomatoes. How many jars of sauce will that make? I'm in for a bit of work once they ripen up. And I'm totally out of pint jars. Does anyone have any excess? I'll pay for it with some filled jars!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

You can't get rid of me that easily

I'm still here. I'm just a bit overwhelmed some days. Too many unfinished and unstarted projects that are becoming more urgent by the day.

I had grand plans to show you pictures and tell stories about my summer. I've edited pictures, but don't necessarily have the time to download them into Blogger. Maybe I'll randomly start throwing just one picture into each post for a while and you can match it up with the activity below. Here's one to start.

Off the top of my head, here's some things we did:

  • Kayaked on a lake
  • Wanted to kayak on another too-cold lake
  • Rowed on prairie grass
  • Luxury camped in the mountains
  • Saw snow in those same mountains!
  • Stuck ourselves to a velcro wall
  • Rock climbed
  • Climbed hoodoos
  • Went on a short horseback ride
  • Learned to spin wood on a drop spindle
  • Had more success spinning with a wheel
  • Threw clay on a pottery wheel
  • Wheeled around to my gardens on my bike
  • Grew lots
  • Picked more
  • Canned even more
  • Swam in a lake
  • Swam in city pools
  • Swam in our own pool
  • Took down our pool
  • Milked a wooden cow
  • Tie-dyed shirts and fabric
  • Used a cider press for the first time
  • Ripped out part of our bathroom
  • Ate a lot of s'mores
  • Went to two small-town parades
  • Went to a small-town midway
  • Went to two family reunions

It was all fun, but I'm tired.

I'm glad it's September and hopefully we can get some routine back into our lives. Last week school started (Yay!), and this week Sunday School, AWANA, choirs, piano lessons and Girl Guides started.

An altogether new kind of busy-ness is upon us, but we always start with excitement and it's a good thing. I love September.