30 October 2008

Chinese Hallowe'en treats (again)

It turned out that Child #1 got the wrong end of the (broom)stick last week and that the Chinese treats should have been made for Hallowe'en itself, not for last Friday's school Hallowe'en party. So could I please make something Chinese for this Friday too, please. One for each member of the class (30 children and two teachers), please.

Several deep breaths, countings to ten and further internet research later, I came up with another recipe: this time for Chinese sesame cookies. I harbour doubts about the authenticity of this recipe and as the school is 'nut free' I had to leave out the almond extract, thereby rendering it even less authentic. I also had to do some additional research to check that sesame seeds don't count as nuts. Apparently people can be allergic to them, but they're not in the same class of foods. Though whether the school will know that, is another matter. I suspect I'll be receiving another parental black mark tomorrow.

So all-in-all I think I can be forgiven for feeling a little jaundiced about All Hallows Eve this year. But just to show willing I did carve one of my home-grown pumpkins this afternoon (my sole concession to Hallowe'en decorating). As (unlike others) my blog is woefully short on adorable little kitties, I thought I'd better make amends.

26 October 2008

Compost comme de l'art

This installation took me seven hours today. I'm thinking of selling it: I'm sure I put just as much thought and effort into it as many more conventional artists put into their work.

I recycled the posts and wire that the cucumbers had been grown on for two of the three sides, then filled the structure by clearing up the remains of the squashes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, corn and beans.

We needed to work on the drainage of the lower vegetable garden, after this July's tomato disaster, where the entire area became waterlogged. I realise that I've never really explained what is where in the garden/barnyard, so here is a not-to-scale diagram to record the current layout. There is a gentle slope from north to south.

Today, Mike dug a trench along the southern end of the upper vegetable garden and connected it by porous piping to the trench that he dug in the spring to the east of the lower vegetable garden. We're hoping this will divert some of the excess water away from the eight vegetable beds that are periodically drowned.

I also dug some sand into the tomato bed (the only one of the eight lower beds that's empty at the moment) to bulk it up a bit and improve the drainage. This was suggested by one of the solar panel guys (who happens to be an organic farmer), but I also took heart from reading Kate's article about using sand, even though the soil here is not clayey like hers (and the comment about sand plus limestone making concrete did give me pause, but what the hell). A big heap of fine sand was left over from the pipeline-laying that the solar panel work needed. It's been well watered by the dog, but I'm guessing that dog urine is probably good for the garden too. Sorry, was that too much information?

23 October 2008

Leaf mould and Dan Tat

The leaves are falling so fast from the ash trees that it looks like a snowstorm. I really need to get out there and start raking them up. The leaves I put into the leaf store I made last year decomposed beautifully and have now been put around the asparagus plants as a mulch, freeing up the container for this year's supply.

First, however, I had to make Hallowe'en treats for the school bash tomorrow. This task has been complicated by the need to make the treats relevant to my daughter's recent project on Canada's trading partners (exciting, eh?). Her chosen (or allocated, not sure which) country was China, so we spent some time the other night doing internet research to try and work out whether there was a Chinese treat that we could easily make and that would keep for 24 hours.

To my surprise, it turns out that egg tarts ('custard tarts' in Britain) have become a traditional Chinese treat. In Chinese they are known as Dan Tat (蛋撻). I found a straight-forward-looking recipe and got baking. They are usually served hot, but I hope the children at the kids' school won't be aware of that!

20 October 2008

Rather too much Marmite

Well I suppose it serves me right for my earlier post, but this is how my 500g jar of Marmite looked when it got to me yesterday from England (exactly as predicted by Lucy). The mess was confined to one Tesco bag, so the exploding container didn't cause too much collateral damage. I found my husband trying to salvage the remains by spooning them into a jam jar, but I decided that I didn't love Marmite enough to want to risk eating small shards of glass, so it has all been thrown away now. Looking on the bright side, he also brought me back two festive containers of Twiglets (which I have never seen for sale here), so all is not lost.

19 October 2008

Flash mob

The collective noun for starlings is either a murmuration, a chatter or a scourge, according to one online source. None of these quite capture the complete racket that this bunch made when they descended on our front lawn this morning. It was deafening. I'm not sure what they were finding to eat out there, but I hope it was a lawn pest.

17 October 2008

Tunnel of gold

New England seems to have taken possession of the "see our lovely leaves" travel market. I've heard a number of British people express a desire to see New England in the Fall - some of whom, I'm fairly sure, have only a vague idea of where New England actually is. Well, if it's gorgeous autumn colours you're after, then you can spread your travel net a bit wider than just the northeast corner of the USA. It's been a spectacular autumn across eastern Canada too.

I took the picture on my drive home from Deseronto this afternoon. I wasn't actually driving at the time, I feel I should point out. I stopped the car and hopped out to take the picture. I'm just trying to imagine doing that on a drive home along the A56 to Sale from my old work in Manchester. Not that there was anything particularly attractive to photograph on that route. But I would have been lynched by the other drivers if I'd tried, that's for sure.

This is one of our neighbour's maple trees. Glorious.

15 October 2008

Marmite and murder

The toast was ready, the butter spread upon it. All I needed was that salty, savoury Marmite kick to start my day off to perfection. But the measly 125g Marmite jar (the biggest you can get in Canada) was not in its usual place. A frantic, fruitless search of all the food cupboards ensued, but no luck. I had to resort to marmalade instead. On toast which had become cold. There's nothing wrong with marmalade, of course, but when your taste buds are primed to expect Marmite, it just doesn't cut the mustard (and I see that even Paddington Bear has been converted to this point of view).

The suspect in the Mystery of the Missing Marmite was sitting in the kitchen watching my increasingly irritated search. My mother-in-law. A lovely woman, with a helpful habit of putting things away. Often in unexpected places. She maintained a steady silence throughout my traumatic breakfast and I was fairly sure that she had secreted the sticky brown substance somewhere. Interrogation was pointless, as by now she had no recollection of ever having touched it, but it was a dangerous five minutes. If I could only have found where she'd put the sharp knives, she might have been in mortal danger.

I later found the missing jar in the fridge. My mother-in-law is now on her way back to England. Well, not because of the Marmite incident, but perhaps it was fortunate timing. She is with her son, who will soon be returning with an ENORMOUS jar of Marmite for me. Which will be hard to miss, wherever it gets hidden.

14 October 2008

Smiling skies

This interesting upside-down rainbow was produced by the late-afternoon sun shining on some high clouds directly over our house. Not something I've ever seen before. I took it as a sign of approval for my morning's activity of helping my daughter tidy up her bedroom. This was a two to three hour task which took all of my archival organisation skills (and a LOT of patience) to complete. Her worldly possessions are now sorted and neatly stacked in boxes or lined up on shelves. For the record, the categories of a 10 year old girl's goods are these:
  • Barbie
  • Books
  • Boxed games
  • Hard toys ('miscellaneous', really)
  • Littlest Pet Shop/Polly Pockets
  • Soft toys and baby doll paraphenalia
  • Tat (possibly the largest category: this ended up in a garbage bag)
Her floor is now visible, though how long this state of affairs will last, I do not know.

I was rewarded with a lovely sunset last night, too.

10 October 2008

Mystery object revealed

We moved our woodburning stove as part of the kitchen renovations. Here is how it looked on the first day we saw the house (April 07):

The cupboard to the right of the stove has been removed and the stove is now in its place. It seems that nothing about the original location of the stove was 'to code'. It didn't have enough non-combustible material in front of it, it was too close to the ceiling and the door and (worst of all) the chimney was for an oil furnace, not a wood stove. All those things are now fixed and the stove has a shiny new chimney, which now goes straight up instead of in the dog-leg that was required by its previous position.

The photo I shared on Wednesday was a view of the sky as seen through the new flue, before the stove and the lower part of the chimney were attached. I figured it would be my only chance to take that picture! I think 'the ms. s' was the closest, in that she guessed that I was looking up when I took it.

09 October 2008

Hutterite Soup Beans

We had a slight frost on Tuesday morning which was enough to put paid to the squashes, beans and potatoes, so I pulled up the Hutterite Soup Bean plants and we spent half an hour this morning picking off the beans and shelling them.

Earlier in the week I made I made a vegetable soup with some of these beans, together with some carrots, potatoes, tomato pulp, kale and my first leek. They were very good and I'll definitely grow them again next year, although I will put in more plants as I don't have a huge number of beans from just the one row. I hadn't really thought about it, but you do need more plants for dried beans than you do with the beans you pick and use as pods, simply because the plants stop producing new beans if you're not picking them. I'll also give them something to climb up, as they ended up in quite a tangle on the ground, even though they were supposed to be bush beans. They'll be easier to pick that way, too.

08 October 2008

Photo quiz

I have a mystery object for you today. What is depicted in this photograph?

04 October 2008

Like a cat that's got the...

Yes, cream! Real DOUBLE cream! From Canadian cows!!

Sorry for the flurry of exclamation marks, but this is a milestone moment for me. I've spent a lot of time grumbling to anyone who'll listen about the quality of dairy products here (and cream in particular). I've even had to resort to making my own double cream using ancient family heirlooms, for heaven's sake. So my delight at seeing tubs of double cream (containing just cream!) in the Smiley's supermarket at Trenton was untrammelled even by the strong suspicion that this was probably a Thanksgiving-only sighting.

I had a stroke of unexpected and undeserved good luck in the garden today, too. The broad (fava) beans that I sowed ridiculously late have somehow survived the heat of the summer and now that the weather is cooler are producing delicious beans in respectable quantities.

Oh, and my kitchen was finally finished yesterday. It's fabulous and I can't believe it's actually mine - it really does feel as though I'm cooking in someone else's.

02 October 2008

One's bittern, always shy

American BitternLook, I know it's a completely rubbish photograph that could be portraying absolutely any large brown bird with long yellow legs, but you'll have to take my word for it that it's an American bittern. We've been seeing this bird around the pond all summer but it flies off as soon as we approach, making it difficult to identify (for novice bird-watchers like us, anyway). This is the best picture I've been able to get and it was only today that I finally worked out what the bird is. My Birds of Ontario book says that it is "uncommon or even rare to actually see one", so I'm particularly thrilled to have finally identified it and taken this photo today, even if it is rubbish.