28 March 2010

Meeting your meat

This weekend it was 'Maple in the County' time, when maple producers and other food-related businesses open their doors to the public to promote their wares. We took the opportunity to visit the small farm belonging to the Nyman family, whose meat CSA scheme we joined last year.

There were baby lambs, pigs and cows in their barn. It's not often that most people get to see the meat that they'll be eating while it's still on the hoof.


All the attention was a bit too much for some of them!

26 March 2010

Spring's teeth

After months of gingerly negotiating huge sheets of ice around the stream that leads up to the pond, we've had two or three weeks of warm weather and it has all melted and been forgotten.

Until today, when the temperature dipped to -8°C/17°F overnight and we were given a reminder that Spring can bite. It was cold enough to freeze the surface of the stream in places. Sometimes in jagged toothy outcrops:


And in other places in solid sheets. The droplets of water underneath this layer of ice caught the sun in a pleasing manner. Like beads of glass.

19 March 2010

Experiment in rodent-proofing peas

The Oregon Sugar Pod II peas are coming up beautifully in the greenhouse:


The Lincoln peas I sowed a few days earlier failed to appear and it soon became clear that they had all been consumed by rodents unknown. I don't know why they are so appealing and the other ones aren't. I still had some seeds left, so this time I thought I'd experiment with a chilli deterrent. I ground up three of last year's dried cayenne peppers, added them to a bowl of water and then soaked the peas for a few hours. My idea was that the infusion would make the peas less palatable to whatever was digging them up (although I should note that the chilli-coated bird seed wasn't much of a deterrent to the squirrels). I sowed them in the same spot and then tipped the bits of chilli and the soaking water over the peas before covering them up with soil.

This morning, there were some small holes in the soil but it does look as though once the creature hit the layer of chilli fragments, it gave up. Time will tell - I'll report back on whether it worked or not.


The slight (and possibly obvious to you) flaw in my method, which only occurred to me after I had covered over the peas, is that those pepper seeds from the dried peppers are probably perfectly viable. Which means that I may well be getting pepper seedlings germinating along with the peas. Oops. Oh well, it's far too early to be sowing peppers in the greenhouse, so even if they do germinate, I doubt they'll last very long!

18 March 2010

Park life

I dragged everyone out for a walk this afternoon, as the day was fine and mild. We went to Belleville and did the circuit of Zwick's Park. It's a level route which is popular with cyclists and skaters as well as dog-walkers. There were quite a few people out enjoying it today.

A pair of swans were feeding on the east side of the park, where the Moira river empties into the Bay of Quinte. I did take some in-focus pictures of them, but this one, where the camera paid attention to the tree instead, is my favourite:


The park is bisected by the Bay Bridge Road carrying traffic to and from Prince Edward County over the Norris Whitney Bridge. The path goes underneath the road in two places. Just after going under the road for the first time we caught sight of a red-tailed hawk, gliding to rest on a tree:


There were only small patches of ice left in the edges of the bay. Not enough to make this sign useful, though.


There are good views of the bridge from the western half of the park. I have no idea who Norris Whitney was, by the way.


In the water just to the right of the bridge we saw a beaver. And just as I pressed the shutter button it dived underwater. Pesky rodent.

We've been over this bridge many times but this was the first time I had been under it. I liked this view of the supports: a bit like the effect you get when you're caught between two mirrors.

17 March 2010

Dreaming on the left

Driving on the other side of the road is one of those things that causes worry for people. It doesn't take very long to get used to - especially as you're generally on the opposite side of the car as the driver. I noticed in a few driving-related dreams I've had recently that my sub-conscious is still driving on the left (although the car I'm travelling in is left-hand drive).

This morning I had another driving dream. (Sorry, I know other people's dreams are really boring.) This time, I made an effort within the dream to see which side of the road we were on. It was the left, again. I turned to the driver (Mike) and said "You're on the wrong side of the road!". At which point he crossed over to the other side of the road and started driving on the right.

Maybe my sub-conscious will drive on the right from now on. Now I've just got to worry about the fact that I always seem to be a passenger rather than the driver in my own dreams. I bet Freud would have had a field day with that...

Image from Flickr user Sergio~.

15 March 2010

A little summer heat

We were given a jar of chilli jam by one of our neighbours at Christmas. It was delicious: so much so that it didn't last very long. We had a bumper crop of chillies and peppers last year, a lot of which was still taking up space in the freezer. Nigella Lawson's chilli jam recipe looked like an ideal way of using some of them up while replenishing the store cupboard with fiery tastiness.


I didn't have any jam sugar, so to start with I optimistically made the jelly with just regular sugar, hoping that there might be enough pectin in the chillies and peppers to set the jam. There wasn't. I bought a packet of pectin in a quick supermarket dash today and re-boiled the runny jam with it. This time it looks like it's going to set. The colour is great.


I love the way that a combination of new and old food-preservation techniques means that I can be making preserves out-of-season like this with last summer's bounty.

11 March 2010

Cooking...something else

Warm weather and the sight of seedlings in the greenhouse prompted me to get making some compost from the detritus in the chicken coop. The chickens are spending most of their time out in the orchard again now, which meant I could get into their corner of the barn this afternoon and remove a barrow-full of shavings and droppings from underneath their roosting area.

We obtained a rotating composter from a County scheme two years ago. I was never very satisfied with it as a means of turning kitchen waste into garden compost. This was my own fault, I think, for failing to supply it with enough moisture to do the job properly. My regular vertical plastic bins do a good job without needing any additional water, so I'd stopped using the rotating one. But it did occur to me recently that it might be a suitable container for turning the chicken waste into compost.

I transferred my barrow-load of material into the composter, adding a fair bit of water as I went. By the time I finished there was an unappetising chicken-poop-coloured drip emanating from the base of the unit, so I hope I've added the right amount.*


I did all this in the greenhouse, thinking this location will help the contents get to the required temperature to kill pathogens (130-150°F/55-65°C according to this article at Seattle Tilth). There is a ready supply of water in there, too, which will help me to keep it at the right level of saturation to encourage decomposition. The 'uncooked' compost mix looks like this:


The article from the Seattle Tilth site suggests that the proportions of brown to green material (i.e. shavings to manure) in the mix should be 1:2, 1:1 or 2:1. I have to admit that I did not carefully measure the proportions (shocking, I know), but I suspect that it is more like 2:1 or even 3:1. I hope that in a month or two it will be in a fit state to add to the garden.

*This is reminding me of one of my grandfather's jokes. Oh dear, can't resist sharing it.
Woman to butcher: "Do you keep dripping?"
Butcher: "No Madam, it's just the way I stand."

07 March 2010

Covered

After yesterday's trailer shenanigans, today Mike made the three new raised beds in the greenhouse, which now looks satisfyingly full of growing space.


Most of the seeds I've sown in there so far are in the central bed on the right (the one with the extra protection of a floating row cover). The rockets seedlings have been the first to emerge.


It was warm in there, so we seized the dog and the opportunity of giving him a good wash. For which we were rewarded in time-honoured fashion:

Trailer hitches

This photo was taken the last time we tried to use the trailer, in December.* It took Mike several hours to get the lights to work. It was a similar story yesterday: the lights were poorly-made and never seem to work consistently.


Poor Mike spent much of the day stripping the lights down into their component parts and then giving up and going off to buy new ones. All so that he could get some more cedar planks and build me three more raised beds in the greenhouse.

Meanwhile, the kids and I were having fun at a birthday party down the road. I provided lemon-meringue ice cream. It was the first time I'd made it and ended up being a combination of two different recipes. The idea was stolen from Delia Smith's Summer Collection, but the lemon ice-cream recipe was lifted from David Lebovitz's excellent book The Perfect Scoop. In that book, he crumbles speculoos/speculaas (gingersnaps from the Low Countries) into the lemon (I've made that version too and it is delicious). But since I was going to be making the ice-cream properly for once, i.e. only using yolks (I usually use whole eggs), I thought I'd make meringues with the whites and stir those in, instead.

The ingredients for the lemon ice-cream:

Zest of two large lemons
¾cup/150g sugar (with the sugar in the meringues, this could probably be reduced to ½cup/100g)
1 cup/250ml whole milk
2 cups/500ml double/heavy cream
Pinch salt
5 egg yolks

And for the meringue:

3 egg whites (or use all five and add proportionally more sugar - you can always eat the extra meringues on their own!)
1 cup/170g sugar

Make the meringue first: whisk the egg whites until they are stiff and then add half the sugar, a spoonful at a time until the meringue is glossy and holds its shape. Fold in the rest of the sugar. Heat the oven to 225°F/100°C/Gas Mark ¼. Put spoonfuls of the mixture onto parchment paper on a baking sheet and then bake for an hour and a half.

Put the lemon zest and sugar into a saucepan with the milk and about a quarter of the cream. Warm it thoroughly and then leave to infuse for about an hour.

Pour the remaining cream into a large bowl and set a sieve/strainer over it. Re-heat the infused milk until it is warm, then beat it into the egg yolks (it's important to add the milk to the egg yolks and not the other way round - they will curdle if you do!). Return the egg yolks and milk mixture to the pan and heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens enough to leave a thick coating on the back of the spoon. Pour this custard through the strainer into the cream. Discard the pieces of lemon zest that will be left in the strainer and put the ice-cream mixture into the fridge to cool down until you are ready to make the ice cream.

After you have got the ice-cream made, crumble or cut the meringue into small pieces, stir them into the soft ice-cream and then freeze until you need it. You have to take it out of the freezer at least half an hour before you want to eat it, to soften.


It was very good!

*No husbands were harmed in the making of this image.

01 March 2010

Cheating

The heavy snow of last Thursday is still on the ground, but it is melting fast and turning our back garden into a highly unattractive pond. I don't have any well-formed plans for the future of this area, in terms of planting, but I think whatever ends up here will need to be fairly amphibious.


Still wintry-looking outside, then, but inside the greenhouse there are some promising signs of life. The soil in the raised beds has unfrozen and the purple sprouting broccoli and kale plants that I left in there to over-winter as an experiment are looking much better than they did at the end of January.



There are some blood-veined sorrel seedlings pushing their way out of the ground, too:


This afternoon I did my first bit of seed-sowing in the greenhouse for the year: some rows of peas and spring onions. I'll probably follow those up with some lettuce, carrots and spinach in the next few days for some early crops. This time last year, the beds were still a month away from being filled with soil. It's wonderful to be able to get ahead of the weather like this, even if it does make me feel that I'm cheating, somehow...