It is snowing here this morning, lots and lots of snow. It is melting too, but enough is falling out the sky to accumulate significantly on the branches of the tree branches outside my windows, about 4 inches so far.
I love the first snowfall of the season! It is pretty. But beyond the visual is the feel of the soft white blanket that now surrounds my little house. The busy brashness of late autumn sounds has been muted. White brings sharp visual contrast to the landscape. I can see paths in the snow, where squirrels and rabbits have made their way in our yard. That is on the outside of me.
On the inside of me is a deep feeling of containment and contentment. I am cozy here in my little house, warm enough, well fed enough (understatement), and peacefully occupied enough to love where I am. The first snow always brings into sharp focus how wonderful it is to have a peaceful home to live in. I stepped out onto the back porch this morning, to take out the compost bucket, and to bring in some washed and dried plastic bags that were hanging on the clothesline, and oh what a pleasure to breath deeply that air, so sharp and crisp and biting. And then, what a delight to retreat back into the warmth of this little house.
These feelings of wonder at the first snow never get old. They return every year in late autumn, when the world first turns white. It is amazing to me that I feel this way every year, despite having experienced late winter impatience for it to melt away.
The first snow marks a turning point in the seasons, a natural turning point, dictated by mother nature herself, and it is delightful.
There is another turning point at this time of year however, that is not so delightful, nor is it natural in any way. It is a corporate interest turning point that occurs here in Ontario, where we have Time-Of-Use monitoring and billing for the electricity we use. It is the perfect opportunity to increase prices, and inflict restrictions on the domestic population of Ontario, Canada.
On November first we were switched to winter rates and time schedules. The rates have increased of course. And what this also means is that I must do my daily tasks that use electricity either before 7:00 a.m. in the morning, or after 7:00 p.m. in the evening. In other words, the most economical hydro is largely available overnight, when I sleep. This is very, very inconvenient, and changes the way my whole day is structured.
There is a period of mid-peak pricing from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., when I will undertake tasks that I feel just cannot be done during the 12 nighttime hours when the electricity is least expensive. But I try to avoid doing that, because it will affect our monthly billing.
It seems Hydro One is determined to make the short cold winter days as dark and dreary as they possibly can.
Heating is our priority, and it is a service I do not want to cut back on significantly, despite the government urging seniors to turn their heat down! The government paid for ads a few years ago, showing an elderly woman wrapped in a blanket, turning down her thermostat, like that was the RIGHT thing to do. I hope the genius who thought up that ad, and the one who chose to run with it, have severe arthritis in their older years, and find themselves wrapped in blankets in chilly homes, doing the RIGHT thing. Heartless campaign.
I’ve been busy. One of the things that has come to my attention is that I experience significant pain if I try to get down on the floor, or back up from the floor. Arthritis is not my friend. All of my life I have been physically nimble, hale and hearty. Age is having none of it! So I did a bunch of research on techniques for getting down on the floor, and up from the floor, and have been practicing. And the practice is paying off, after a few days of cleaning shelves that can only be reached if one is down on the floor, I can now get down, and up again, without experiencing pain. I still forget I am not young anymore, and without thinking try to get down, or up, as I had whole life through, for decades and decades. But pain is a determined reminder that adaptation is required.
On Tuesday I made a loaf of 100% whole-wheat low-sodium bread in the bread machine. The whole loaf contained only 1200 mg of sodium. I added dried mango and dried cranberries to it. Wow, it was so good. I love bread with dried fruit in it.
When I was a single Mom on a tight time and financial budget, a loaf of bread with mixed fruit in it was my only special treat. I even dreamed about that loaf of bread at night, watching the slices fall as I opened the bag. I love breads and pastries. Yesterday, I could not resist having my homemade bread with butter for breakfast, again for lunch, and as a bedtime snack. And I had it for breakfast again this morning, and again at lunch. I know I will not want to eat anything else until that loaf of bread is all gone, and it won’t be long. Well, it is best fresh, right?
I was so in love with the bread I made, that I decided I needed more dried fruit in the house, with which to make it. Out came the dehydrator, to dry the Gala apples purchased at the grocery store this past week. They are Ontario apples, and on sale at the moment for $1.00 a pound. They were peeled, cored, sliced thin, then spread out on the racks. I ran the dehydrator at 140F last night after 7:00 p.m. when the hydro cost dropped to off-peak pricing, and turned the heat down to 90F for the night, to let it run overnight. It seemed best to keep the temperature down when the unit was not being supervised. It was turned off this morning at 6:58 a.m.. The apples are not dry yet, a little rubbery, so they aren’t done. Tonight the dehydrator will be turned on to 140F again at 7::00 p.m. and will run again all night if need be.
The apples cores and peels are now in the crock turning themselves into Apple Cider Vinegar, which needs to be stirred daily to prevent mold.
Last Friday the pressure canner was put into service again, this time to can six 500-ml jars of Taco Soup. These are intended for my lunches, on those days when I am suddenly hungry and just can’t figure out what to eat. Since there were no empty jars left, the pressure canner was cleaned and back into storage it went. But Attila, upon finding out that the jars were all in service, picked up another dozen jars when he was out and about. So there will be more canned instant meals on the way soon.
The cabbages were first harvested in September. Each stem that was left started to grow new little cabbages. Attila harvested them on the weekend, and now we have a 1 liter jar of sauerkraut fermenting in the basement. Hopefully this batch will be a success!
Date: 11:47 AM EST Thursday 7 November 2019
Condition: Mostly Cloudy
Pressure: 102.3 kPa
Dew point: -3.5°C
Wind: NNW 14 km/h
Wind Chill: -6
Visibility: 16 km
“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy: They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922
Yesterday we were out at the Camp for a few hours. What a beautiful day it was! Attila brought his chain saw and managed to get two of the many dead trees out. But the recent rains brought water back to the swamp, so many dead trees remain to be removed at another time. Grace the trailer was closed up for the winter, and happily there was no sign of mice inside. The mouse trap will be left operational for the winter, using plumber’s anti-freeze. it is hoped that the wildlife will live in the wild, and that the trap will be empty come spring. Hopefully there will be more
Today began with heavy, cold rain. The skies are unbroken and the colour of slate. Attila is shutting down much of the garden, mulching some of the perennials, pulling frost killed plants and cutting them up for the composters.
I made tomato sauce this morning, from the tomatoes that have ripened in the basement. There are still quite a few tomatoes down there, and most of them will ripen nicely, for eating, and for more tomato sauce. I am not going to can any more tomatoes, we have enough for this season, and enough pizza sauce as well in the freezer. So as the green tomatoes ripen, they will be either eaten fresh, or made into a sauce for the refrigerator. Tomato based soups will be on the menu this week.
Attila’s ferments are only two weeks old, but they both developed kahm yeast. Attila removed the kahm yeast, and pronounced the ferments tasted great. They were put in mason jars and refrigerated, and won’t last long. What was learned though, was that the ferments with kahm yeast could have been left the full fermentation time, 20 days minimum, before removing the yeast and bottling for the refrigerator.
Attila’s garden harvest was amazing this year. Not since moving away from the family farm have I seen such home grown bounty. Our house is now full, the bulk of the harvest is in, and there is no more room on the shelves, or in the freezer.
* INDICATES harvested in sufficient quantity to surpass immediate consumption needs, so requiring preservation.
Over the last year or so, I have acquired some fantastic food processing equipment. All of it got a good workout this year.
Food Preservation Equipment Used:
Canning Jars: 1 liter, 500-ml, 250-ml, wide mouth and regular mouth Metal Canning Lids and Rings Pickle Pipes (silicone) Pickle Pebbles (glass) Fermenting Jar Rings All American Pressure Canner Victorio Steam Canner Victorio Steam Juicer Two 8 Quart Stock Pots One 16 Quart Stock Pot Long Handled Wooden Spoon Sieves Ladle Funnel Jar Tongs Clean cotton rags Onion Chopper Apple Whacker Paring Knives Food Mill Apple Whacker Food Processor Dehydrator Onion Chopper Stove Oven Vacuum Sealer Vacuum Sealer Bags
Wednesday, October 30, 2019
It is bright and sunny this morning! My load of laundry is almost finished washing, so that I can hang it on the line. The laundry will be hung on the line under the porch until the temperature drops so low that it will freeze out there. So far, the weather has been bonny for hanging out the wash.
Time slipped away on me again. A few busy days, checking things off my list. Actually, yesterday afternoon I checked the last thing off my list! But of course, it is time to start a new list. I love lists, they keep my mind free of clutter, and my days focused on the things that matter to me.
Attila and I decided that it would be best to apply window film to the lower portion of all of the living room windows. Up until Sunday evening, the possibility of coming out of the bathroom after a shower, to go to the bedroom to get dressed required closing the living room curtains, before dawn and after dusk. Open curtains opened up the possibility that anyone down the street, from the street, from a vehicle, from a house window, could look into our house if the lights were on, and observe us in the hallway and bedrooms. It was a niggling concern, which we have dealt with diligently over the last ten years, but now seemed a good time to address the issue.
The project of applying window film has been put off for weeks. All other projects seemed appealing, compared to it. The materials had been waiting. Our grocery bill has been lower this autumn, with our garden bounty providing so much of what we have been eating, so the surplus was used to purchase window film. All other projects seemed appealing, compared to this project. But at last, Monday morning, I had run out of excuses, the only project left on my list was applying window film. So it began.
Measuring and cutting such a large and cumbersome roll of plastic is difficult to do in a small, almost tiny, house. It took a half an hour to clear a space on the floor, large enough to spread out the film, in order to measure and cut it. And I can honestly say that the older I get, the more difficult it gets to work on projects using the floor as my workspace. Getting down there, and back up again, over and over and over again, well, it isn’t any fun. I am grateful I can still do it, but this is one of the rare instances where I find living in such a small space constraining.
The project took all day. Attila said he was glad he wasn’t here for it, and well he might! Some curmudgeony endeavors are best tackled solo, this was that sort of endeavor. At completion, the constant tension of the “fish bowl” effect evaporated. Why didn’t I make this happen earlier!!
Another project was to start two more ferments, green Ground Cherries, and Jalapeno Peppers. The Ground Cherries are experimental, they may be tasty, but they may not. All a failure will cost is a few teaspoons of wasted salt, so it is worth a try.
My crock of apple scraps are fermenting nicely. The crock is covered with a cotton cloth held in place with an elastic band, and is stirred daily to prevent mold from forming. It smells grand, very hard cidery. In about a week I will strain the fruit from the liquid, jar the liquid and compost the fruit scraps. Then the mixture will sit in a dark cupboard for weeks, until it it transforms itself into Apple Cider Vinegar. The last of the 2018 Apple Cider Vinegar, that was made with our own Crabapples, was used last night.
One of the projects being undertaken here at Mist Cottage is to reduce the recyclables. That was the starting point. Most of the recyclables here are beverage containers, coffee, milk, juice, and plain soda. In an effort to minimize packaging from beverages, a customized recipe of Switchel was prepared, and stored in a clean, empty two liter juice container that would have ended up in the recycling bin. Attila loves this stuff! So, some of the juice containers will no longer be coming into the house. Switchel, as per the recipe, is a sugary drink, and sugary drinks are a treat and not a beverage. The plan it so play with the sweetening agent, substituting some of the honey for Stevia. It will be an experiment to alter the proportions of honey to stevia until a delicious yet healthy balance is achieved.
There is an added benefit to Switchel, it is a lot less expensive than juice. Since a whopping third of our food budget is spent on beverages, this is a step towards reducing the food bills.
So far I’ve tackles a few small tasks. In 2017 I harvested some lovely lavender flowers, dried them, then stuck them in a glass jar with a lid. Today I removed the little blossoms from the stems, placed the blossoms in a labelled jar, and set the stems aside pending research into possible uses for them.
Date: 10:00 AM EDT Wednesday 30 October 2019
Condition: Mostly Cloudy
Pressure: 102.5 kPa
Dew point: 8.9°C
Wind: N 18 km/h
Visibility: 24 km
“All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind.” Aristotle 384 BC – 322 BC
I have found this to be true, in my experience. I will say though, that picking fruit, and other menial labour jobs I have had, allowed a certain freedom of thought. It was only the “professional” jobs, where the mind was confined to set parameters, that cut into mental health. With manual labour, I could read a book in the evenings, and think about it all day doing repetitive manual tasks. I had a pretty good time actually, working on the farms.
Early last week I ran into a problem with a piece of software on one of my older Macs. It was a result of an incompatible update, which had auto-updated. I began interacting with tech support for the software company, the issue was escalated to more technical support team. I interacted with them for days, tried all their suggestions, and nothing worked. The old Mac just would not connect to the internet. I feared its functional life was over.
Frustrated with the software tech support, this morning I got out of bed, immediately setup the computer, and started to play around. I kept playing around for over an hour, then I found the issue and fixed it. It was a setting buried deep in the software, which needed only to be toggled off, which let me connect to the internet, which let me update the software to get rid of the issue. It is a wonder the tech support didn’t start with that setting when they were troubleshooting with me! I feel very satisfied that I fixed the problem, despite, and not because of, technical support.
Today is an apple day. I am finally sitting down, after being on my feet since 9:00 a.m., it is just after noon now. One half bushel of apples has been peeled, cored, diced, and is now sitting in pots on the stove, on a low heat, turning itself into applesauce. Attila peeled, I cored, sectioned, and diced. I hope we get to the other half bushel today, but I don’t hold out much hope. Sixteen quarts of apples are going to take some time to cook into applesauce, and can.
These Northern Spy apples are very dense. Water needs to be added at regular intervals when it is being cooked and made into applesauce. Stirring it is hard work, and it cooks very slowly, so there is a lot of stirring. My arm and wrist are very sore.
The peels and cores are being saved to make apple cider vinegar. Our first batch, made last fall with crab apples, is fantastic. So we are in high hopes that these apple scraps will give us some wonderfully flavoured apple cider vinegar.
Monday, October 21, 2019
This morning the fog was thick and the air was chill.
It got busy around here after I wrote Saturday’s entry. I added the photographs and wrote the captions today.
Sunday Attila peeled all but a dozen or so apples from the second half bushel. I cored, and processed them in the food processor. They took about four hours to cook, using two large stock pots, even though the apple pieces were pea size. And I had to add a little more than 4 litres of water to keep them from becoming too thick to stir. Wow, I don’t remember Northern Spys being so difficult to cook. Attila thinks it is due to the very dry summer we have had this year, so there is not much moisture in them, and they are very dense.
I ended up with 5 more quarts of applesauce for the shelf, which were washed, labelled and put away on the basement shelf this morning.
The apple cores, and bits that didn’t make into the applesauce pot, were placed in a 5 liter fermenting crock. After covering them with a water/sugar mixture, I added a few tablespoons of active apple cider vinegar. A clean cotton cloth was placed over the crock, which was secured against fruit flies, and other interested parties, with an elastic band. This will be stirred every morning for two weeks. Then the liquid will be strained from the fruit and returned to the crock to turn itself into cider, then vinegar.
My next canning project presented itself to me yesterday. I was about to make dinner, an Instant Pot rice dish with turkey and hot chili, very tasty. But I suddenly realized that all of my vegetable broth was frozen! Oh dear, I had to thaw it slowly in the microwave, adding quite a bit of bother to the meal preparation.
I started making vegetable broth from vegetable scraps in August, when our garden started to deliver a lot of fresh produce. A total of about 10 quarts have been made since then, five of them I have used already for cooking. The other 5 are still in quart jars in the freezer. I was so busy with canning and roasting and drying and fermenting, and the broth was being produced only a quart at a time, that it just seemed more practical to freeze the small quantities vegetable broth.
But frozen vegetable broth does not work well for my style of cooking!
So today I have five quarts of frozen vegetable broth thawing on the counter. Once I can get it out of the jars, I will put it into the 16 quart soup pot, boil it for 10 minutes, then can it in 500-ml jars. Then it will be sitting ready to use on the shelf when I need it, no forethought required. These will be pressure canned.
Attila loved the Fermented Jalapeno Peppers I made for him. They are all gone now. We have a few ferments on the go, green tomatoes, and Brussels Sprout leaves. Attila also has a ferment of his own on the go, hot peppers. Yesterday he started yet another ferment, green cherry tomatoes, with fresh coriander seeds and garlic. Fermenting is easy. But we did have a failure, the second batch of sauerkraut. We will try another batch of Sauerkraut when the fermenting crock is free again, as it is now being used to make Apple Cider Vinegar.
And still there are things to preserve! There are about 20 pounds of tomatoes ripening in the basement. Thankfully all of the tomatoes have been harvested now, no more coming in from the garden. The Swiss Chard was harvested as well, and it will be processed tonight, probably blanched and frozen. BUT Attila says the Swish Chard has not given up, and it is growing like crazy right now, so there might be another harvest. There are some small cabbages that grew from the roots of the earlier harvested cabbage plants. And there are six more Brussels Sprout plants to harvest, Brussels Sprouts and leaves. And beets, lets not forget the beets that are still to be harvested.
Three months of steady food preservation activity. And I have so many conveniences, choppers, shredders, pickle pipes and pucks, a fermenting crock…
I do this because I choose to do it, because it is a hobby with benefits, lots and lots of benefits.
But can you imagine having to do this for a family with many children, on a wood stove… before all this modern technology, because someone HAD to do it, to be on the home front making sure the food supply didn’t spoil. This work was a respected part of the art of survival.
11°C Date: 11:37 AM EDT Monday 21 October 2019 Condition: Mostly Cloudy Pressure: 102.0 kPa Tendency: Rising Temperature: 10.5°C Dew point: 10.5°C Humidity: 100% Wind: NE 13 km/h Visibility: 16 km
“Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.” Martin Luther King Jr. 1929 – 1968
We had frost again last night and it is predicted again for tonight. Attila was prepared, all of the garden, except the Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and Swiss chard, were covered. Attila was off to work early this morning, so the garden will stay covered until he gets home from work. Since it is sunny today, I am hoping that the coverings, clear plastic, will create a slight greenhouse effect, providing enough heat to ripen more of the tomatoes and peppers.
The tomato harvest is slowing down a bit. Last night another two or three quarts of ripe tomatoes were pureed. This morning I added them to a large stock pot with the previously pureed tomatoes that were stored in the refrigerator. A few ingredients were thrown in, such as fresh onion and garlic, and a mixture of herbs. The tomatoes were simmered over a low heat for a few hours, until they were the perfect consistency for spreading on a pizza. After they cooled in the pot, they were measured into tubs, which were labelled and placed in the freezer. We will soon have enough pizza sauce to make pizza once a week for a year. We enjoy our weekly homemade pizza!
Our homemade pizza is made with dough made from our own freshly ground organic whole wheat flour. The pizza sauce is our own, organic. The toppings however, are store bought; red peppers, hot peppers, mushrooms, pepperoni, Vidalia onions, cheese, herbs. Eventually we would like to grow our own organic red peppers. and ferment our own hot peppers. This year though, our pepper plants only produced enough for our immediate use, pureed pepper sauce, and a few 500-ml jars of fermented peppers. I learned a thing or two about growing peppers though, and am looking forward to trying again next growing season.
On Sunday we sliced up a three pound cabbage to make one quart of sauerkraut. Just a bit too much cabbage for the project, but Attila managed to get it all into the jar. I think the jar might have been overfull, because there is quite a bit of liquid coming out of the pickle pipe, about a third of cup so far. This became problematic because the residue was drying on the pickle pipe opening and preventing it from functioning to release gas. When I went this morning to check on it, the pickle pipe was swollen with the pressure from the gas inside the jar, and when I released it there was a fountain of liquid that squirted all over the place.
I brought the jar of fermenting sauerkraut upstairs from the basement, to keep it in the kitchen where I can keep an eye on it. After releasing the pressure, I rinsed the still sealed jar and pickle pipe under the tap, and gently cleaned the vent on the pickle pipe. Hopefully it will begin again to release the fermentation gases as it was intended.
Lesson learned! Do not fill the fermentation jar too full! It needs at least an inch, probably more, of headspace.
Observation about sauerkraut fermentation: the house is going to smell like dirty socks! Luckily the human nose, at least my human nose, becomes inured to mildly objectionable odours after a few hours. I certainly hope that the odour does not collect in my hair and clothing though! How would I know.
We have our apples. On Monday Attila took a run to an apple farm on his way home from work, and purchase a bushel of apples, seconds. My preferred cooking apple is the Northern Spy, so we were very lucky to find them, and to find them as seconds was a big bonus. The price was $25 for the bushel.
Now the work begins. This year I’ve decided to make a small batch of Mincemeat and a lot of Applesauce to can. As well, starting today, I will be baking with apples every few days. Today it will be Apple Oatmeal Squares, and a batch of Apple Muffins. I’ll even do a small Apple Crisp in a mug for my lunch today, yum!
The volume of produce coming out of the garden is declining. This is our entire carrot harvest, and as you can see, not everything in the garden yielded a large harvest. The carrots are about two inches long. Back to the drawing board on carrot planting for next year’s garden. The Brussels Sprout leaves are edible, and I hadn’t tried eating them before. After sauteing them for breakfast, I found they neither added nor detracted from the taste of the dish, so I would say they are mild flavoured, and good for stir fry meals, soups, and stews. I might even try fermenting them!
These were the basic ingredients for my breakfast this morning. I finely chopped the carrots and the broccoli leaves, then sauteed them in olive oil, with chopped onion and garlic. I seasoned it with 1/4 teaspoon of Roasted Garlic and Red Pepper herb mix, then broke an egg into it and when the egg was ready, breakfast!
Date: 10:00 AM EDT Wednesday 9 October 2019
Condition: Mostly Cloudy
Pressure: 103.0 kPa
Dew point: 6.8°C
Wind: ENE 18 km/h
Visibility: 24 km
“People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” Samuel Johnson 1709 – 1784