30 January 2008

Much extreme caution

Fifty mile an hour winds combined with fairly heavy snow and rapidly dropping temperatures made my journey to work today distinctly hairy. As I drove along the north shore of Lake Ontario I could hardly see at all, with all the snow blowing off the lake and over the road. The weather warnings issued by Environment Canada advised that "motorists and the public in general should exercise much extreme caution". I was completely shattered from all that exercising by the time I got home.

Oh, and we've lost another twelve or so shingles from the roof, too, so it was not a good day at the homestead either. A fascia board has gone (and we can't see it anywhere) and some soffits have come off as well, this time. The snow inconveniently melted off the roof yesterday, exposing it just in time for the winds to wreak their worst today. The roofers will come back at the weekend, but as it is due to snow again on Friday, I'm not sure how much they'll be able to do.

The roofing guy thinks that the roof needs a period of hot weather to weld the shingles onto each other (there's a layer of glue on the underside of each shingle) and make it more solid (the top half is nailed to the roof). Such weather seems like a long way off at the moment and we don't want too many more days like today where we watch helplessly as chunks of roof fly past the windows. Perhaps we should have waited and got the roof replaced in the spring.

Vesey's seedsLooking on the positive side, my first order of seeds arrived yesterday, bringing with them at least the promise of better weather in the months to come.

28 January 2008

Staff of life

BreadIt's taken a month or so of experimentation, but I think I've finally worked out the best way of making bread. I left my old breadmaking machine in the UK, as it wouldn't have worked on the voltage here. After a bit of research I decided that I'd invest in a Bosch Universal Plus machine. It isn't a breadmaker as such - just a powerful motor that you can plug various attachments into. Its main appeal for me was the quantity of dough it could handle (up to 15 pounds). I rarely used the breadmaker I had before to actually cook the bread, just to knead the dough (I was always irritated with the hole left in the loaf if it was cooked in the machine and kneading the dough by hand literally irritates my wrists). The Bosch kneads the dough in ten minutes, which is a lot faster than my old machine.

I've worked out that 3kg (7lb) of bread flour (half wholewheat, half white) will make three satisfyingly large loaves. I've adapted a recipe I found at the Milk and Honey Farm site (I use sugar rather than honey and don't bother with the Vitamin C or whey powder). I freeze the spare loaves and this quantity keeps us going for a week or so. The shop-bought wholemeal loaves here seem a lot sweeter to me than the UK equivalents, so it's nice to be able to make something that tastes the way I think it should. Child #1 even eats the crusts of my bread, which is quite an achievement. I haven't worked out yet how much each loaf costs to make (or how many hundreds I need to make in order to make the Bosch pay for itself!).

Brer Fox

Red foxThis is the first fox we've seen. It strolled around the garden and barnyard for about five minutes this morning. Something to bear in mind when I eventually get some chickens...

27 January 2008

Digital preservation

Dark Chunky MarmaladaHad my first ever attempt at making marmalade yesterday. Thought I'd go with a Delia Smith recipe, as they're usually pretty reliable, and I found a recommendation for her Dark Chunky Marmalade on the Cottage Smallholder blog, so tried that. It's quite a long cooking process, as you poach the fruit whole first and then go on to the boiling phase. The house was filled with wonderful citrus smells throughout the day.

Delia says you should make the marmalade over two days, but I did it all in one afternoon and evening (with half the quantities) and it worked fine. My memories of earlier attempts at making preserves (my mother's and mine) were that the end result tasted fine but didn't set properly. I haven't tried the marmalade yet, so can't vouch for the taste, but am pleased that it has, at least, set.

24 January 2008

Cold turkey

There were many more birds around today, on the feeders and in the woods. Perhaps because it's less windy - it certainly isn't any warmer than it has been for the rest of the week. Up by the spring there was ample evidence of the wild turkeys who'd been taking the waters: nearly all the tracks in this picture were made by them. I could hear the turkeys in the woods, but didn't get close enough to see them. There are estimated to be over 600 of these birds in Prince Edward County now, all the descendants of 20 birds that were released in 1989, according to the County's conservation page.

21 January 2008


Dog tracks coyotesThere were two sets of coyote tracks across the frozen surface of the pond this morning. I was rather surprised when the dog started following them: he's never walked across the ice before. He's not so brave when the coyotes are close by. I heard last week of a small dog that's gone missing, presumed to have been killed by them, so perhaps it's just as well.

It's sunny on our side of the lake today, though the clouds on other side look a bit threatening.

20 January 2008

More ice sculptures

It has dropped colder again and the spring running down from the pond is gradually freezing up, creating a range of different types of ice structure. These pictures were all taken this morning.

  • There's the ice bubble:
    Ice bubbles

  • ice flowers:
    Ice flowers

  • icy crazy paving:
    Icy paving

  • and tiny ice combs:

19 January 2008

Take two

It's been a while since I posted a video of the dog, so for those who like seeing a mad creature gambolling (there's no other word for it) in the snow, here he is:

He's grown quite a bit since his last piece of cinematic exposure. Hasn't got much brighter, though: his favourite hobby at the moment is eating the snow.

This is 'take two' because in my first recording of this scene Mike was tormenting the dog by making mad growling noises and I had to remind him that the camera records sound as well as video. If he really annoys me I might post that video one day too...

15 January 2008

The North Wind doth blow...

Weathervane pointing north... and we've had snow again, yes. Can't say I've noticed any robins hiding in the barns though.

We did have a startled moment on the way back from the post office this afternoon when a mouse suddenly appeared on the bonnet of the car, ran across to the passenger side and then launched itself onto the roadside and ran away.

I think I've always aspired to be the sort of mother who greets her children with a plate of freshly-made biscuits when they get home from school. Today I didn't have a clue what to do for tea, but I'd taken the butter out of the fridge with a vague plan of making some chocolate-chip cookies, so just before they got home I made some. It's an adaptation of Nigella Lawson's recipe for White-Chocolate and Pistachio Biscuits, but since I had neither white chocolate nor pistachios in the house (and because we're now over here), they turned out to be Almond and Chocolate Chip Cookies.

According to Child #1 they were both "the best cookies in the world" and "as good as the ones in the shops" (I think she was remembering Millie's Cookies in the Trafford Centre).

They contained:

100g very soft butter
125g sugar
100g brown sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
150g all-purpose (plain) flour
1tsp baking powder
100g ground almonds
handful or two of chocolate chips

The butter and sugar are mixed until creamy, then the egg and vanilla are added and mixed in, followed by the flour and baking powder, then the almonds and chocolate chips. I got 24 cookies from the mix, although Nigella's recipe says you should get 36, so mine must have been a bit on the generous side. They're baked at 350°F/180°C for 10-15 minutes and transferred to racks when they've cooled down slightly.

CookiesMy original plan had been to send the children to school with these as part of their packed lunches, but then I remembered that the school has a strict 'no nuts' policy, so that isn't an option and we'll just have to eat them at home. Shame.

13 January 2008

Eh, eh?

A Canadian character in an episode of The Simpsons that we watched the other day was marked as such by ending his sentences with the word 'eh'. I'd heard of this supposed Canadianism before we moved here, but thought that it didn't sound that much different from the use of 'eh?' that you hear in Britain.

Having spent a lot more time talking to Canadians since then, I realise that the use of this tag (as linguists call it) is actually quite different. In England, 'eh?' is usually associated with a question (or is an alternative word for 'pardon?'). Here it seems to be more similar to the use you hear in the UK of 'like' or 'you know' - as a sort of audible punctuation mark. But it's more widely used than 'like' and 'you know' are in England, although there is a similar stigma attached to its use.

There's been research into it - Mark Liberman at the Language Log describes a survey carried out at the University of Toronto by Elaine Gold, which explains the different uses of the word. It's the 'narrative' use that sounds strange to British English speakers. Here's the example Gold quotes, from an earlier work by Walter Avis:
"He's holding on to a firehose, eh? The thing is jumping all over the place, eh, and he can hardly hold onto it eh? Well, he finally loses control of it, eh, and the water knocks down half a dozen bystanders."

I don't remember hearing 'eh' used this way (or at all, really) when we visited Alberta and British Columbia in 2006 and that is borne out by Gold's paper, where her survey suggests "that eh is used more in central Canada than in the west".

She also looked at the response of immigrants to the word:

New immigrants quickly pick up the use of eh, with two-thirds reporting use of eh with opinions after less than five years in Canada. They associate the use of eh with their developing Canadian identity: one speaker, who had been in Canada for less than two years, said, "I was kind of proud when it slipped out of my mouth the first time."

I'm too aware of 'eh' now for it to 'slip out' like that, but I'll be monitoring the children for signs of incipient ehs.

12 January 2008

Mild midwinter

Pond on January 12thThe ice on the pond is down to a mere sliver now and the only snow remaining is in the greying heaps that the snow-ploughs left in road-side ditches. I went for a squelchy walk through the woods this afternoon and there were not many signs of life: the ghosts of last year's wildflowers and luxuriant cushions of moss and lichens on the fallen trees and tree stumps.

Thistle head in winterMosses and lichens

11 January 2008

Picnic Plait

It's not exactly picnic weather out there: it's wet and dark today, so it is a perfect day for baking bread. I had some dough left over after making two two-pound loaves, so used it to make a picnic plait for lunch. Or perhaps that should be picnic braid now I'm the other side of the Atlantic.

This is the finished product:

Finished picnic plait

You roll the bread dough out (best to do it on a lightly-oiled baking sheet, so you don't have to move it later) and then just put a strip of filling down the centre. I had some leftover crushed tomatoes*, half a red pepper, some cheddar and a slice of ham in the fridge, so they all went in. I softened a small chopped onion in some oil and added that with some dried thyme and black pepper.

Unplaited picnic plait

Then you just cut the edges into strips, fold over the dough at the top and bottom and stretch the strips over the filling, going from alternate sides each time.

Plaited picnic plait

I let it prove for half an hour or so, then cooked it with the bread at 350°F (180°C) for 20-30 minutes. If I'd been serving it to guests I'd probably have glazed the strips with beaten egg, to make it look shiny and scrumptious, but I didn't bother as it's just us eating it. I've trained my family to expect food that tastes fine but doesn't look perfect! We won't be taking it on a picnic today, perhaps, but it is ideal picnic food.

*These are just tomatoes that have been ground to a purée and come in a tin. I don't remember ever seeing them in the UK, but they're great for bolognese sauces and pizza bases.

10 January 2008

Wicked winds

Shingles downThese are part of the new roof that was installed back in October. You may have noticed that they're not on the roof. Yesterday was quite blowy: our weather machine registered a high wind speed of 25 metres per second, which is 56 miles, or 90 kilometres, an hour, if my sums are right. So not hugely high (especially as the roof was supposed to be able to survive 80mph), but high enough to do some damage. Dean the roofer is coming back tomorrow.

Doorless barnWe also finally lost the side door of the small barn, which had been looking a bit sorry for itself ever since we arrived. I'm actually glad about that casualty, because it was a pain to open and close in its previous, hanging-on-by-a-hinge, state.

06 January 2008

Twelfth Night

Christmas treeThe decorations are all down now and everything's looking a bit bare, so I thought I'd decorate the blog to keep Christmas going until the last minute. I've always thought that this last day of Christmas would be an ideal one for a party: people often feel a bit low after the holiday and somehow the feasting and jollity never lasts the whole twelve days. I think that the retail trade is to blame for this - the shops certainly don't have any incentive to keep Christmas going past the 25th. Perhaps there should be an official Twelfth Night holiday to keep the festive momentum going for the traditional number of days. They certainly celebrated it properly this side of the Atlantic in the past.

KettleWe've invested in a proper whistling stove-top kettle for the woodburner, which must be conserving a fair amount of electricity, the number of times we boil a kettle every day. It's also a very cheering sight in that rather dark corner of the kitchen.

Outside, we've had another mild break in the weather and the snow is turning to slush again. I'm hoping that these melting periods are good news for the water table and for my vegetable and fruit plans. I've spent much of the weekend poring over seed catalogues and attempting to decide what we'll be growing this year. When I had two small raised beds I only ever ordered from one catalogue. Now I've got three catalogues (and one more due to arrive soon) and I'm a bit overwhelmed with choice. As I had to leave all my old seeds back in England, I'm starting from having nothing (apart from one packet of rocket and one of lettuce). My growing area is also so much bigger that I'm not so restricted in what I can grow: I've never grown potatoes or winter squashes before, for example.

I'm also surprised by the considerable variations in price between the three catalogues, for the same seeds. One is American, one Canadian and one British. Usually the US and Canadian products are cheaper, but not always. I've ended up creating an Excel spreadsheet to track everything. I'm sure I'll end up ordering far too much, but hope that most of the seeds will keep for a few years at least, if I put them somewhere cold and dark. Somehow I suspect that I'll still be putting in an order in 2009, but maybe I'll manage to restrict myself to just the one supplier next year.

03 January 2008

Ice sculptures

Icicles on barn roofToday was quite frigid too - a maximum of -14°C. When we got up it was -21°C, which is -6°F. Both fires were on again, needless to write.

IcicalagmiteThe melting of snow on the metal roof of the barn has resulted in some lethal-looking icicles, but more interesting were the structures that were created on the ground, where drops of meltwater hit bits of grass that were sticking up out of the snow, and then refroze. I expect there's a technical name for these beautiful, blown-glass-like forms, which probably isn't icicalagmites.

02 January 2008

Stoker, Second Class

second stove litIt was -15°C this morning, so we decided that we'd light the stove in the kitchen as well as the one in the living room. It's much bigger, so kicks out an impressive amount of heat. Both our smoke alarms went off as the dust on the top of the stove burnt off (can't think how it got there) - so at least we know they're working. It's possible to boil a kettle on the stove-top (if you're not in a huge hurry for a cuppa, that is), so there's the added benefit of having another cooking surface while we've got it alight. The only drawback is that with two fires going, you feel as though you're a bit of a slave to refuelling them.

Postscript: It turns out to be the perfect place to prove bread dough, too! Might have to go mad and buy a proper kettle though. This one was bought for a camping trip in 1990 and is a bit on the small side.