A Great Snack!

It is sunny here this morning. As you can see from the weather information below, our weather is all over the place. Wednesday night is supposed to be -19C, and then the temperatures will swing up again. It has been a bit of a roller coaster through February.

We are enjoying a Statutory Holiday today, Family Day. I would have preferred if it had been called something a little more inclusive, such as Kindness Day, or Friendship Day, which would include families and those who are flying solo through life, but the government decided on Family Day, so Family Day it is. Whatever it is called, it is a welcome break in the dead of winter.

As I sit here typing, I can hear scratchy noises from down in the basement, with intermittent sharp cracking sounds. That would be Attila. Yesterday he moved the freezer out of the way, and finished installing electrical boxes, so that today he could install the last large stretch of wall with vapour barrier today. After he tapes the vapour barrier he will cut and install the last big sheets of drywall. I will help him carry in the drywall, it is so awkward to move it around in the cluttered basement. When the drywall is screwed on, it will be time to tape it, and then paint it.

There are two sections of the basement that will be very difficult to complete. One is the wall behind my canning jars, which will all have to be moved, a daunting task, I have a lot of thinking through before that gets tackled. That wall is insulated, with taped vapour barrier installed, but it needs drywall. The other finicky bit is a 16 inch space behind two full three drawer filing cabinets. Attila only wants to move those once, so he is waiting until we organize down there, and know where they will be placed long-term.

I’ve been having a ball in the kitchen. Yesterday I baked a dozen Cranberry Chocolate Chip Muffins, and used most of the whey I had collected when straining my latest batch of yogurt. A batch of Apple Cinnamon Raisin Walnut Muffins went into the oven after that, and Strawberry Rhubarb Squares went into the oven when they came out. After all that I cooked a pork roast in the Instant Pot, made gravy, and we enjoyed a meat and potatoes dinner.

Condiments from the grocery store have a lot of sodium in them. I have made low-sodium pickles, relish, and chow chow. But I have been craving Sweet Thai Chili Sauce, and Plum Sauce, two favourites that have been off-limits for years due to their high sodium and sugar content. So I thought I would give it a go, making my own. I started with recipes I found on the internet, recipes full of salt and sugar, tasty! But not for me. I omitted the salt called for, and substituted liquid stevia for the sugar called for. For the plum sauce I used pureed pie pumpkin instead of plums. The results were KAPOW! Even Attila choked a bit when he agreed to a taste test. My versions are full of flavour, perhaps a little too acidic, perhaps not. What I am noticing, as I learn to cook with liquid stevia, is that it does not cut the acid the way cane sugar does, so the amount of vinegar may need to be reduced, or perhaps there is another trick yet to be discovered. I use these sauces to mix with noodles and cooked vegetables, so they might be great, or not. I have yet to try them. I won’t share the recipes because they are a work in progress.

My biggest and best project for the weekend turns out to be a vegetable project. When we were shopping for supplies on Saturday, sweet potatoes were on sale, so one was purchased. Today it was peeled and small portion of it was cut into 1/2 inch strips. Out came the Air Fryer, which I’ve not yet used, and Attila uses constantly. He agreed to walk me through the process, to make Sweet Potato Fries. Who knew! I omitted the salt and pepper, and replaced them with 1/2 teaspoon of onion powder (our garden onions dehydrated), then tried the air fryer for the first time. Attila stood by to provide support, as I pushed buttons and learned how to use the appliance. It is very easy to use. WOW! These are so good that not for one second did I miss salt! They are healthy enough that they are good for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, for snacks. This Air Fryer has real potential for the low-sodium, low-sugar, low-cholesterol eating regime.

Sweet Potato Fries, I love them!
They look a little burnt in the image, but they weren’t, they were nicely browned and a bit crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. The picture shows only the half that was left when I remembered to take a picture.

We were talking about which appliance we might prefer, the Instant Pot or the Air Fryer, if we had to choose but one. I would choose the Instant Pot, hands down, and thought Attila would choose the Air Fryer. But no, he also chose the Instant Pot, for its immense versatility in preparing ingredients and whole dishes.

While not in the kitchen, you will find me shuffling our belongings from here to there, as I go through the daily chores. The house is not as cluttered when we first stuffed 1800 square feet of furniture and belongings into a 640 square foot house, but still, it is cluttered with the basement storage under renovation. Eventually the basement will be completely insulated and the daunting task of organization will begin.

We do everything in this little house that we would do if we lived in a bigger house. We grow food, and store all the related equipment. We preserve food, and store all the related equipment. We cook almost everything from scratch, and store the related equipment. Very little goes out to the garbage, or even recycling, and there are weeks where we do not put out anything for garbage pickup or recycling. The renovation projects require equipment and supplies, all stored on site. Every square inch on the main floor of our little house is in constant use.

The lap blanket I am crocheting for Attila is coming along slowly, the last ball of yarn for the body of the blanket has been started, and the yarn for the border, picked out by Attila, has been purchased. I anticipate completing this blanket before spring begins. I thought it would be finished last winter, ha! Plans, no use getting too attached to them.

Worldly

Weather

-22°C
Date: 5:00 AM EST Friday 14 February 2020
Condition: Not observed
Pressure: 103.1 kPa
Tendency: Rising
Temperature: -21.7°C
Dew point: -26.4°C
Humidity: 66%
Wind: NNW 13 km/h
Wind Chill: -30
Visibility: 24 km

-6°C
Date: 10:00 AM EST Monday 17 February 2020
Condition: Partly Cloudy
Pressure: 102.8 kPa
Tendency: Rising
Temperature: -6.2°C
Dew point: -12.6°C
Humidity: 61%
Wind: NNE 14 km/h
Wind Chill: -12
Visibility: 24 km

Quote

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
Leo Tolstoy
1828 – 1910

Brrrr

We are experiencing another cold snap, last night the temperature dropped to -20C, wind chill -25C, and tonight it is predicted to fall to -21C, wind chill -25C. In reality it has been a little colder than that here at Mist Cottage, as the thermometer outside the kitchen window reads a little higher than than the outdoor temperature, because it is mounted on the wall of the heated house, where some heat is being given off. We are cozy though. The winter thus far has been mild, so that we have used less than a quarter of our winter fuel oil. Last winter we used 3/4 of a tank, so I suppose there is still time for this winter to catch up!

Life is very quiet, which is lovely.

The work on the basement insulation has slowed considerably, Attila’s next step is to work on wiring, and that requires shutting off the electricity to the house, to be absolutely safe, so it will be put off until the weather is a little warmer we need our heating system right now. In the meantime, this week he finished the trim and painting on one of the windows in the basement, it is quite cheerful down there now! We plan on painting the floor joists and underside of the floor boards, which form the ceiling in the basement, and that should add quite a bit of cheer down there as well.

Our fermenting projects have yielded mixed results. We still have much to learn. The unripe ground cherries I fermented were very good, I ate a few everyday, and now, alas, they are all gone. I like to have some fermented food each day, so I decided to make Yogurt.

It was quite an ordeal trying to figure out how to do it in the Instant Pot! The manual is useless for my purposes. Almost every recipe I bumped into on the internet was for cold start Yogurt, which is fine, except that it requires the use of ultra-pasteurized milk, which is very costly. I wanted to use regular milk, at regular prices, and finally found a video made by a woman who was using regular milk to make her Yogurt in the Instant Pot.

My first run through any food preservation or preparation project is usually pretty rocky. This Yogurt project was no exception. I first discovered that although I had a Duo Instant Pot, as the woman in the video had, the control buttons on mine work differently than hers. So I opted to begin the process on the stove top, heating 5 cups of 1% milk in a saucepan, over s slow heat, simmering it for 5 minutes. Then I poured it into the Instant Pot, and let it cool to 110F. In a small bowl I added some of the cooled milk to 3 tablespoons of active culture Greek Yogurt, that I had purchased at the grocery store, mixed them together, then added the mixture to the Instant Pot. I stirred that in, put the lid on, leaving the vent open, pressed Yogurt on the controls, and set the timer for 6 hours. Success!

This is my Instant Pot Yogurt. I used 5 cups of 1% milk, just regular milk that we Canadians buy in 1.33 liter plastic bags. I love it mixed with Maple Syrup or my Dandelion Bloom Jelly.

Since my first batch of Yogurt, I have done more research. Apparently, on my Instant Pot, I can adjust the Yogurt button to read boil, which will boil the milk in the Instant Pot. This means I will not have to wash a saucepan next time, a small improvement, but they add up over time, so it is worthwhile.

Let’s see, what else is going on around here. Last year I knocked over a table lamp, and broke the glass shade. Finally, the right shade presented itself!

Here is the new shade on the lamp. I really like it, Attila chose the pattern.

And finally the Christmas Tree project continues. The Christmas ornaments were removed from the tree and stored away in boxes above the basement stairs, where they will wait patiently until next December. The lights and tinsel remain, to provide bright lights and sparkle to the new decorations. The new decorations are small hearts, in honour of the approaching Valentines Day. I was decadent today, and also bought Attila a box of chocolates, which I gave to him, under strict instructions to enjoy them privately, as I should not be eating candy.

Worldly

Weather

-20°C
Date: 8:00 AM EST Saturday 8 February 2020
Condition: Mainly Sunny
Pressure: 102.1 kPa
Tendency: Rising
Temperature: -19.7°C
Dew point: -23.9°C
Humidity: 69%
Wind: NNW 7 km/h
Wind Chill: -25
Visibility: 24 km

Quote

“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.”
Eddie Cantor
1892 – 1964

Robin Hood Is Turning In His Grave

Our hydro bills are increasing at an unbelievable rate.

We have new energy efficient windows, maximum insulation in the attic, a newly insulated basement, and have taken many measures to reduce our hydro usage. And we have succeeded reducing the amount of hydro we use.

When temperature is considered, January 2020 was on average -5C. January 2019 was on average -10C. This winter January was warmer, and above -7C much of the time, and that means that we used electricity to heat our home much of the time this year. So in theory our hydro usage should have skyrocketed, but instead it dropped by 1.9%, mostly due to the new insulation in the basement.

Even though our hydro usage for January, 2020 is slightly less than our usage in January 2019, our bill is 51% higher. In one year, using roughly the same amount of hydro, our bill has increased by 51%.

When they privatized our public hydro system, they preached competitive pricing…

In the meantime my very small government pension was reduced due to a government “claw back”. I think the claw analogy is apt.

Lower income, much higher billing.

Robin Hood is turning in his grave.

January 2019
959.39 kWh for $77.98
on-peak: 163.7 kWh for $21.61
mid-peak: 160.4 kWh for $15.08
off-peak: 635.3 kWh for $41.29

January 2020
940.95 kWh for $117.72
on-peak: 151.1 kWh for $31.43
mid-peak: 151.5 kWh for $21.82
off-peak: 638.3 kWh for $64.47

% increase = Increase ÷ Original Number × 100

% Increase COST
117.72-77.98=39.74 increase
39.74/77.98 x 100 = 51% increase in the bill

% Decrease USAGE
940.95-959.39-940.=18.44 decrease
18.44/959.39 x 100 = 1.9% drop in hydro usage

Worldly

Weather

2°C
Date: 3:00 PM EST Tuesday 4 February 2020
Mostly Cloudy
Wind: SW 13 km/h
Temperature: 2.4°C
Pressure: 101.0 kPa
Dew point: -2.1°C
Visibility: 24 km
Humidity: 72%

Quote

“The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
1803 – 1882

Something to keep in mind when politicians are doing their thing.

Unexpected Opportunity

Our pace has slowed here at Mist Cottage, as winter deepens. It isn’t the cold, because the weather was mild over the weekend, and is mild again today. The eves are dripping, the snow is compacting as it melts, the roads are clear and dry in places, and the skies are gray, as they usually are these days. Of course, the cold weather is not done with us yet, not by any means. We will be well into March before we can regard a cold snap as unusual in any way.

I have been listening to Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. I am only an hour into the novel, and I am pierced by sadness and grief, that humans could ever create social structures that caused so much pain and suffering. But humans do just that, and to that I will never be fully reconciled. I think humans may be the cruelest conscious living beings on planet earth, and no culture that I have ever read about, or been exposed to, is an exception. They all harbour their own sad stories.

I am also now listening to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and have just been introduced to Mrs. Benet, and her obtuse husband, Mr. Benet.

What a contrast in worlds between the novels I am listening to. On one side of the world, and closer to our own time, there is great suffering in the underbelly of an unbalanced socal system. On the other side of the world, there is the struggle with the rigid artifice of the class system, on the peaks of an unbalanced social system. And all of it rings true, the descriptions of the human condition, the lows and the highs, and everything in between.

Another world wide alert about a virus is in the news. This time it is the Wuhan Coronavirus. One hopes that the powers that be will be successful in containing the spread of this virus, which has already killed many people, and has potential to kill even more. In my time there have been world wide threats posed by SARS and MERS and Ebola, and there may be others that I was not aware of at the time, the news of which didn’t penetrate into my everyday life. It seems greater mobility of people and things bring greater risks.

On the weekend I baked Squash Chocolate Chip muffins for snacks. I experimented with a sweetener consisting of stevia and erythritol. I’ve used other granulated sugar substitutes, and I am happy to report that this combination of sweeteners yielded great results. This sweetener might even have some health benefits. Certainly, it is unlikely that it won’t be any worse for me than sugar. I’ve looked at other stevia mixes, usually using maltodextrin or xylitol, and decided erythritol seems the least likely to be harmful. The stevia/erythritol combo is a lot more expensive than the other blends with stevia, and it is more difficult to find. The muffins are a great success. I had one for breakfast this morning and enjoyed it very much.

Today I am busy milling flour. It takes me quite a while, because I mill a little over two gallons of flour, and let the mill cool completely between sessions. I mill the flour in four sessions, producing a half a gallon of flour at once. I measure in gallons because my glass canister jars are one gallon jars.

And last, but not least for today, is our Christmas Tree. I think I mentioned that it was in very good condition, not losing needles as all of our previous real Christmas Trees have done. Well, it has gone one step further. It is growing new needles, there are buds emerging all over the tree. If it keeps up like this we will have try planting it in the yard come spring. In the meantime, I think we will take this unexpected opportunity to remove the Christmas Ornaments, leave the lights on it, and decorate it with Valentines, then later replace those with Shamrocks. This is a lot of fun!

Worldly

Weather

2°C
Date: 12:00 PM EST Monday 27 January 2020
Condition: Mostly Cloudy
Pressure: 100.5 kPa
Tendency: Rising
Temperature: 2.0°C
Dew point: -1.4°C
Humidity: 78%
Wind: WNW 17 km/h
Visibility: 24 km

Quote

“Age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
1807 – 1882

Forest Floor Muffins

The ice storm arrived here after midnight, so we awoke to a sparkling world. The sparkle was brief though, because very soon the snow began to fall, making everything white, and surprisingly, not all that slippery. We did not lose power at any point. Today was another gray day.

Having baked bread last weekend, there was no need to do it again this weekend. Actually, there were no plans to bake today. But mid-afternoon I was looking for a snack and couldn’t settle on anything. So I made muffins, a go-to recipe. I don’t read the recipe anymore, I just use this recipe’s base ingredients, and then mix and match the rest of the ingredients.

The base ingredients are divided into two categories, dry and wet. Extras are usually added to the basic dry ingredients, but also sometimes to the wet.

The dry ingredients in my base recipes are:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup of quick cooking oats
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder (aluminum free)
  • 4 tablespoons of brown sugar

The wet ingredients, in a two cup measuring up are:

  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • liquid to make ABOUT 1 1/2 to 2 cups (milk, applesauce, pureed pumpkin, pureed any fruit).
    NOTE: the liquid is the tricky bit in my muffin baking. When I add a cup of applesauce or pumpkin puree to the liquid measure, the mixture is quite thick, and needs a bit more thin liquid (like milk) to moisten the batter adequately. And muffins can easily be over stirred, so getting the liquid to dry ratio just right, without stirring too much can be tricky.

The rest of the ingredients are discretionary. My mixing and matching was ambitious today. To my muffins I added: chopped walnuts; chocolate chips; shredded coconut; roasted sunflower seeds; flax seeds; raisins; and applesauce. When describing my choices to Attila, he laughed and called the muffins, Forest Floor Muffins. He figures my choice of ingredients was the equivalent of going for a walk in the forest and picking up whatever interesting things I could find on the ground, then throwing them into a recipe. The process was a bit like that, I have to admit. The muffins are delicious.

I use the basic dry and wet ingredient measurements to make all my muffins. I end up with low-sodium, low-sugar muffins that taste good to us. I can vary the recipe depending on what is on hand, or in season. Currently Attila favours Cranberry Chocolate Chip Muffins for his lunches. I mix a cup of whole fresh or thawed cranberries into the dry ingredients just before adding the wet ingredients, AND I add a few drops of liquid stevia to the wet ingredients, because the cranberries demand it.

Attila spent the weekend making soup for weekday snacks, and applying vapour barrier on the newly insulated walls in the basement. He is down to working on the fiddly bits of vapour barriers, behind pipes, the furnace, and the hot water heater. I snuck in a mention of my new kitchen shelf today, providing him with the height and width specifications that I have decided on. Fingers crossed for that project!

So not exactly a busy day, not exactly an exciting day (excitement is highly overrated), but certainly a pleasant day.

Worldly

Weather

-7°C (we are getting down into oil furnace temperatures!)
Date: 8:00 PM EST Sunday 12 January 2020
Condition: Light Snow
Pressure: 103.3 kPa
Tendency: Rising
Temperature: -7.1°C
Dew point: -9.7°C
Humidity: 82%
Wind: NE 8 km/h
Wind Chill: -11
Visibility: 24 km

Quote

“What is important is to keep learning, to enjoy challenge, and to tolerate ambiguity. In the end there are no certain answers.”
Martina Horner