29 November 2008

Greenhouse complete

We've been able to make sporadic progress on the greenhouse during November and today the final gaps in the structure, the sliding doors at one end, were finished. Not bad, considering it's nearly December. Here's a view through those doors of the inside, with Child #2 at the other end for scale. He's six foot three.*

The fears I expressed back in July have proved to be groundless - we have managed to get the structure up without the involvement of divorce lawyers (although my breezy estimate of 'a month or two' looks a little optimistic with hindsight). In fact the whole process has filled me with admiration for my husband's determination to see the project through. If it had been down to me alone I would have given up long ago, but Mike's refusal to be beaten (some might say his bloody-mindedness (I wouldn't say that - obviously)) has brought about this fine result. He calls it a 'giant Meccano set', but I don't remember Meccano involving working at heights with heavy drills in icy winds.

My role in the construction has mostly been of the magician's assistant variety. Without the glamorous hair-do and over-the-top make-up. Or the sequinned outfits, for that matter. Now I've just got to decide how we're going to make the best use of this space. To put it into context, I should explain that this is only the second greenhouse I've ever owned. Here's the first:

So basically I'm a complete and utter novice with a huge space to make use of. At the moment I'm contemplating putting a series of raised beds down one side of the house, with staging on the other. I'm not planning to heat the greenhouse (for the time being, anyway), so will mainly be using it to extend the growing season and as a place to start off seeds like onions and peas that don't mind the cold but don't like the wet. But, like I say, I'm a novice, so if anyone has any sage words for me, I'll be glad to hear them.

*This is not strictly true.

What? And why?

My self-imposed task today is to sort out our utility/mud room which has become a repository for all kinds of junk. Some of it (most of it) is our junk, but in my clearing-up I've also found previous-owner junk. This object is one such item. It's a small coat-hanger style hook, about five inches wide. I think it's supposed to be in the shape of a cow, but that is guesswork based on the fact that this used to be a beef-cattle farm.

What would/should this be used for? Clearly, someone put a fair amount of work into making it, which makes me feel bad about throwing it away, but I really can't think what else to do with it. Answers in the comments, please: and if anyone would actually like to own this object, please shout!

23 November 2008

Ice wrappings

Very cold and clear this morning. One good thing about the shorter days is that you get to see the dawn more often than you do in the summer.

Usually, Mike takes the dog for his early-morning walk, but I volunteered to do it today, as I thought there might be some good photographic opportunities. The stream running down from the pond had frozen over:

There were small crystals of ice everywhere.

You had to be dressed for the -11°C temperatures though. Here's my Self-portrait with balaclava.

20 November 2008

Electric blankets

The first snow of the winter fell overnight - just a centimetre or two. By 9.30am the solar panels were almost clear of it.

In front of the barn the young shoots of the garlic that I planted in mid-October are still visible. There's a blanket of hay underneath the blanket of snow, so they're pretty well insulated under there. I always used to plant garlic in the autumn in England, but have read conflicting advice here about whether it's best to do it in autumn or spring, so this is a bit of an experiment.

18 November 2008

First sprinkling

Back home and it is cold. Not above 0°C yet and it's lunchtime. Any standing water has a thin film of ice over it. This morning we've had a few flurries of snow: enough to coat the pond with white.

The geothermal system is keeping the house a lot warmer than it was last year, although we're keeping it set at a fairly low temperature and are using the wood-burning stoves as our main source of heat. It really feels luxurious (and rather decadent) not to have to get out of bed into a cold house.

16 November 2008

Where in the world...

...am I tonight?

Well, here's a visual clue:

You may already be guessing that I'm not in rural Ontario.

I'm on another of my intermittent city jaunts and, as usual, am mostly taking pictures of plant life. At home all the leaves have left the trees (and it even snowed a bit this morning), but here there are still some leaves attached to branches, although there are plenty more blowing about in a blustery breeze and coating the ground of the big park in the centre of the city:

This next view of this park probably gives my location away:

Yes, it's Central Park. Which somehow is a lot more rugged and wild-looking than I was expecting it to be. I've never been to New York before, but you see the city so often as a backdrop to films and news reports that it is instantly familiar. I'm trying to be cool about being here, but there's a small part of my brain that keeps jumping up and down excitedly and shouting out "I'm in New York, I'm in NEW YORK!".

It really is a fleeting visit - I'll be going back tomorrow - so I won't have time to do the proper touristy things. I did go past the American Museum of Natural History this afternoon, so here's a picture of one of the two festive dinosaurs outside it, for my son, who was very jealous that I'd be near the set of Night at the Museum.

Although, to be honest, I wasn't at all sure about the fact that the dinosaurs were holding a wreath each. It didn't seem like a likely activity for a pair of, well what are they, iguanodons? I suppose they were herbivores, but still...

14 November 2008

Almond and raspberry tart

November is a famously depressing month (even without monster headaches), so comfort food is an essential, rather than a luxury. I made this tart on Sunday and it didn't last beyond that evening, but I'd left my camera cable at work so couldn't post the pictures until now.

This is really Nigella Lawson's 'Bakewell Tart with Raspberries' from her book How to Eat, but simplified (and it was already pretty easy to start with).


Shortcrust pastry

I use 250g flour and 125g butter, whizz it in the food processor and then add enough water to bind it into a big lump. To make this even easier you could use bought pastry or a bought pie crust, but the food processor version is so quick, it hardly seems any extra bother.


3 eggs
125g/4oz/1 cup ground almonds
125g/4oz/½ cup butter
125g/4oz/⅔ cup sugar

Put the pastry in the fridge while you make the filling. Melt the butter and take it off the heat. Beat the sugar into the eggs and then stir in the butter and almonds. Roll the pastry out and line a 10-inch/26cm dish with it. Prick the pastry with a fork. Scatter raspberries (as many as you have/like) over the base of the dish. I only had frozen ones, but fresh is fine too. If you don't have raspberries then a layer of jam over the base makes a more traditional Bakewell Tart.

Then pour in the almond mixture. It doesn't matter if some of the raspberries are poking through.

Cook it for 45 minutes at 200°C/400°F. Then it will look something like the picture at the top of this post.

Nigella says that "this is the sort of pudding people who say 'I don't eat puddings' have second helpings of." I don't think I know any people like that (not sure I'd be able to relate to such beings), but I almost wish I did, just to test that theory out.

13 November 2008

Analysis of a headache

As a kid I always used to get a headache when my mother had served us sausages. I'm sure she didn't believe me and thought I was trying to get out of eating sausages, but it did happen. I've had occasional really bad headaches as an adult - maybe seven or eight a year, but I've never associated them with a particular cause.

Until yesterday, when the penny finally dropped. A headache slowly came on during the afternoon and I had no painkillers with me, so had to wait until I got home at 6.00pm. By which time the headache was a full-blown migraine and it was too late for the recommended dosage of ibuprofen to have an effect. I spent the evening in bed feeling utterly wretched, finally accepting that this was a migraine rather than a bad headache and trying to work out WHY it was happening.

Parmesan. I'd had rice with mushrooms and parmesan for lunch. Could it be parmesan that was causing this? So this morning, with a slightly tender skull but otherwise recovered, I researched 'parmesan headaches' and ended up discovering that yes, parmesan can be a trigger, but also (thanks to this brilliant article) that in women our menstrual cycles are a major contributory cause of migraines. When oestrogen levels are low (at menstruation and ovulation), migraines are more likely to happen.

So I feel greatly relieved at finally understanding these migraines and knowing that there are ways to avoid triggering them. The article also had some hope to offer: "Many women will experience an improvement in their migraine after menopause." So that's something to look forward to, then!

Image Migraine #2 by Arty Smokes on Flickr.

11 November 2008

Joyeux Noël

No, I'm not getting all previous and becoming overly festive (although there are folks around here with their trees up already). Instead I'm referring to the 2005 film of this name which arrived in the post from our DVD rental company the other day.

Remembrance Day seemed to be the perfect day to watch this movie, which is based on real events surrounding the truces in the trenches at Christmas in 1914. It might be a bit sentimental for some tastes and probably wasn't anywhere near realistic in terms of the conditions in which the men were existing, but there was a message of hope, fellowship and mutual disrespect for authority which pleased me.

07 November 2008

Marketing and the male mind

My crop of Winter Luxury Pie Pumpkins is all safely tucked away in the basement now, but I have run into an unanticipated problem with actually using them. Child #2 (aged 9) has decided that he hates pumpkin. He won't touch pumpkin soup and refused to even try the pumpkin pie I made for Thanksgiving (which, with the right kind of pumpkin, was a vast improvement on last year's, by the way). So I have started researching other ways of using them up.

Yesterday's attempt was pumpkin bread. But such is his aversion, that I cunningly informed the children that the dish was known as 'Autumn Loaf'. We all tucked into the bread and everyone agreed that it tasted fine. Child #2 happened to be sitting next to the recipe print-out and I (stupidly) pointed it out to him before offering another slice of the loaf.

"No, I don't like pumpkin."
"But you liked the first slice."
"I'm not eating it - it's got pumpkin in it."

And that was it, he utterly refused to eat it any more, despite our remonstrances.

I wanted to give both the children a slice of the bread for their packed lunches this morning. The conversation with Child #2 went like this.

"You liked that Autumn Loaf I made yesterday didn't you?"
"Would you like a slice of it in your packed lunch?"
"Yes, please. It isn't pumpkin bread?"
"No, just full of crushed up autumn leaves. Is that OK?"
"Yes, that's fine."

And I got a big hug in return for my blatant lie.

D'you think he's going to have big therapy bills in the future?

04 November 2008

Winter coats

The asters and goldenrod flowers are now sporting their woolly winter outfits, forming a browny-greyish swathe where only a few weeks ago they made a splash of colour.


22 September:

A succession of workmen inside the house (first attending to the kitchen, then re-wiring everywhere) has limited our outdoor activities to weekends, with the result that work on the greenhouse construction has effectively stalled since September. On Sunday we managed to get back to it. We spread out the polythene layers that will cover the structure and started to pull the first of them over the frame. It wasn't particularly windy, but even the relatively light airs that arose were enough to lift the sheet up like a sail, which was a bit alarming. So we gave up and waited for a still day.

I kept an eye on the wind-speed during Monday and noticed that it started to drop at about 3pm. We tried again and this time the sheet went over without trying to take itself and us off into the skies. The second sheet went over even more easily than the first and then we managed to secure them at the ends and fix down the sides to the wooden battens.

There's still quite a lot to do - the ends, for instance - but it is beginning to feel like a structure now, rather than an interesting piece of garden sculpture.