31 May 2020

Signs of life

I ordered some fruit and nut plants back in February as part of the general aim of self-sufficiency. They arrived ten days ago and we have been busy planting and watering them. It has been good to have the new plants to dote on as a distraction from pandemic news...

Peach tree shoots.

I have been watching them anxiously for signs of life and nearly all have rewarded me with progress. The picture is of the shoots on the peach tree, 'Reliance', which is supposed to be able to take the winters here. Frankly, I am doubtful, but I hope that I am wrong! The other plants include hazelnuts, blackberries, a mulberry bush and a cherry tree. 'I had a little nut tree' has been going round in my head now for days...

The only things yet to show any indication of growth are the raspberry canes.

I was able to go into work on Wednesday of this week, which was great. I had a list of things I couldn't deal with while working at home and managed to deal with most of them. I was back to working from home on Thursday and found it was very hard to settle to anything after having a day at work. Uncertainty is the worst part of it: it will be good to get into a set routine again.

13 April 2020

Taking it slow

Life in lockdown is not so different from normal life for me. I don't have small children out of school to worry about and I can work from home with no great difficulty. With Mike and Child2 here with me, I don't feel particularly isolated, and I'm still in regular contact with my father and my aunt in England. We have plenty of space for a long walk with the dog (although he's getting on a bit and not as keen on a long walk as he once would have been...). I know we are luckier than a lot of people who are cooped up with less ability to get out in the fresh air.

What has changed is the pace of things. Not that my life Before was exactly a whirlwind of activity, but now I am not rushing to get out of the house before 7.30 to see my mother-in-law in her nursing home before going off to work, things feel much more leisurely. The library where I normally work was closed to staff from 23 March and I went in on the 24th to finish some jobs and pick up a few things (including the office orchid!). Working from home involves connecting to my desktop remotely and this can be a frustrating experience: there's a bit of a lag across the network and it feels like I am working in slow motion most of the time.

I think my brain is on a go-slow anyway, with a low-level background level of panic which actually reminds me of my state of mind back in May 2007, just before we left England for Canada. It's quite hard to concentrate on anything for any length of time: reading fiction seems beyond my capabilities at present, for example, and my sleep is disturbed. I feel unproductive as a result, but I am not going to beat myself up about that: if we can't make exceptions for ourselves in exceptional times, then when can we?

Asparagus spear emerging.

Outside of work, I'm focusing on watching the garden come back to life and getting comfort from the usual cycles of plants and wild birds. Humans might be making a mess of things, but Mother Nature is still doing her thing. Hope you are safe and well wherever you are reading this.

22 March 2020

Strange times

Well, I haven't been doing a very good job of keeping this blog up to date, have I? My impression is that the coronavirus crisis is creating a new generation of bloggers as people are more and more confined to their own homes and finding that blogging is a good way of connecting with friends and family. I should probably do the same.

Closure noticeThings are moving fast: right now we have 1,329 reported cases of COVID-19 in Canada, with 377 in Ontario and 19 deaths. The public library I work inside was still open on 16 March, but closed to the public that evening. I closed the archives on the morning of the 16th, but have been continuing to go to work, as I can still be doing things like answering enquiries and digitizing archival materials while the building is closed.

 Not that people are really asking questions about archives at the moment, but that might change as this situation becomes the new normal. I'm fortunate in that I don't use public transit to get to work and I don't really interact with anyone while I'm there. I will probably start talking to myself, soon, though...
Book being digitized

Restaurants and bars were shut down last week, and my impression is that people here are being fairly diligent about maintaining distances from each other and not doing too much in the way of panic-buying.

The nursing homes started restricting visiting hours and screening visitors on 2 March: they were taking people's temperatures and I could only go and see my mother-in-law on my way home from work instead of my usual routine of popping in twice a day. On 8 March that changed and all visitors were banned in order to protect the residents. My mother-in-law is not well enough to be aware of this change (šŸ˜¢), which is some comfort, I suppose, but it must be very hard for many families.

Meanwhile, I'm focusing on getting the garden going and appreciating the change of season. Yesterday I potted on all my eggplants and peppers. I have 58 plants in total, so we should be fairly self-sufficient in those this year, all going well!

Young epplant

Next weekend I will sow the tomatoes and in April I am expecting a delivery of fruit and nut trees and shrubs to regenerate the orchard. It's good to have something else to think about...

16 November 2019

Wild November

 November has been a fairly memorable month so far, in terms of weather. On the first of the month, gale force winds brought down several trees and left us without power for two days.

This red cedar (Eastern juniper) in our back yard was the most significant casualty. It also took down the power line from the house to the barn and greenhouse.

Mike has been busy with clippers, chipper, and chainsaw since. I still can't get over the amazing colour of the cedar wood, once it is cut up.

A closer look at the root ball of the tree shows just how shallow the soil is here: the roots have wrapped themselves around the limestone rocks below.

A killing frost in the first week put paid to all the tender crops in the greenhouse, so I spent last Sunday clearing them all out and putting the greenhouse to bed for the winter. I'm glad I did, because  this week we had significant snowfall on Monday, followed by record-breaking cold.

It might be an interesting winter!

25 October 2019

Tomato Last Hurrah

Tomatoes, bread, olives and peppers.

I'm still picking tomatoes from the greenhouse, but they are ripening very slowly now and I know it won't be long before a killing frost gets to them.

This week I have been making the most of them by making panzanella for my work lunches. I often make a Dutch oven loaf at the weekend (I follow Tara O'Brady's recipe for Seeded Boule from her book Seven Spoons but don't always bother with the seeds. So these days it's just Boule, really...). If I'm lucky, there will be some of the loaf left over for Monday. This week I was extra fortunate, with enough bread left for Tuesday, too.

Seeded boule.

Both days I made panzanella with a torn-up slice of the bread, a few tomatoes, and a few olives. Then I drizzled over some red wine vinegar and olive oil, mixed it all together and let it sit until lunchtime. It's such a simple dish, but tastes lovely and is a great way of appreciating these late-season harvests. On Tuesday I made the same thing, but this time added a few of the pickled peppers I made last week, just to give the meal a bit of a kick.

20 October 2019

Resurrection with Pickled Peppers

It's been a while since I've been here (over two years, wow), but I want to get back in the habit of writing regularly, and this seems like a sensible place to start. I thought I'd write up my recipe for pickled jalapeƱo peppers. It's an adaptation of a few different recipes I found online. And, unlike one of those, it does not begin with "Clean your kitchen" as the first instruction. šŸ˜’

I grow two kinds of hot peppers: a cayenne type and tam jalapeƱos. The cayennes are easy to deal with: I just put those straight into the freezer and take them out when I need them. They are thin-skinned and defrost quickly. I probably have enough for the next ten years...

The jalapeƱos are a bit more work: they can be frozen for a short period of time, but their thicker skins mean that they suffer from freezer burn if you keep them like that for too long. I like to slice and pickle them, but as I only grow four to six plants, it takes a while to harvest enough to make it worth pickling a batch.

My solution is to freeze the jalapeƱos as they ripen to red, and leave them frozen for a month or two until I have a sufficient quantity to pickle.

Today I harvested the remaining (mostly green) jalapeƱos from the greenhouse and let the frozen ones defrost before slicing them all up and discarding the stems.

I use my pressure canner to process the pepper slices. The recipe is pretty simple: for each pound of sliced peppers, you need 330ml of water and 110ml of white vinegar (roughly 1 cup and ⅓ cup) and half a teaspoon of salt. Bring the water, vinegar and salt to a boil to make a brine, then blanch the sliced peppers in the brine for two minutes. Pack the peppers into a two pint jar, then pour the brine over, seal with a lid, and pressure can the jar for ten minutes.

These are nice as a pizza topping, or to add a bit of heat to quesadillas or salads. Once opened, they will keep for several months in the fridge. In theory, anyway...

19 August 2017

Tomato processing

The tomatoes are starting to come in fast and I realise that I have never written up my current method for turning them into sauce for the winter. So this post is to remedy that situation. I've simplified the process as much as I can, but it does rely on a couple of pieces of equipment: a food mill and a pressure cooker.

First of all, the tomatoes are cut in half, placed on a baking sheet with a lip and roasted at 180°C/350°F for an hour to an hour and a half (less if they are small, but most of mine are big). You can add seasoning, garlic and herbs to the cut tomatoes, but I tend to leave them basically quite plain and add flavourings to the sauce when I use it later. This burns off a lot of the water in the tomatoes and you can do a lot at one time. At the height of the season I cook three baking sheets at once.

After they have been roasting for the hour, remove them from the oven. There will be a lot of water in the sheet.

 Use a slotted spoon to lift the tomatoes out of the sheet and into a food mill sitting over a large jug. Use the mill to process the tomatoes. The skin and seeds will be left in the mill, with all the pulp being pushed through into the jug.

If you're happy with the consistency of the sauce, you can proceed to the canning stage. If not, you can boil the  sauce down a bit in a saucepan until it's thick enough.

I've never found it necessary to add lemon juice to the sauce, but if you prefer to do so, add it now. Pour the sauce into sterilised glass jars and cover with lids and rings. Put jars into a pressure canner and process for 30 minutes.