31 December 2009

Grey and lifeless

We went back to Massassauga Point for a walk today, to blow away some of the Christmas lethargy (brought on, no doubt, from overeating). It has been nearly three months since our last visit, when the Bay of Quinte looked liked this:

The photo below was taken from roughly the same place. The Bay is now frozen solid, so there was no chance of seeing a boat this time, although the patches of snow and the different colours of the ice do make it appear as though there are waves in the bay. It is actually a colour photograph, although it doesn't look like one!

On the way to the conservation area we stopped to take a photo of a derelict house. This photo was originally in colour, but I have turned it monochrome to enhance the creepy atmosphere that seems to surround the building (and to tone down the vivid yellow of the 'For Sale' sign!). I hope someone buys the place and restores the home to its former state; there are so many hideous modern houses on the same road. It would be a great shame if this old one were pulled down to put up another new one.

29 December 2009

Retrospective, 2009

I have a temperamental objection to committing myself to anything like a regular feature on this blog, but last year's retrospective post does contain a summary of events which might be useful in the future. So I'll do it again this year with the proviso that I might not keep up the activity in 2010.

Putting up the greenhouse was one of the big achievements of 2008 and this year we turned our attention to equipping the inside. Three large raised beds were built in February and filled with soil over the following months. Since then, they have been occupied with a succession of crops: carrots, herbs, lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, peppers, aubergine, kale and broccoli. I was still harvesting tomatoes in November and we ate the last fresh tomato at our Christmas party on December 20th. Needless to say, I am delighted with the greenhouse and hope to put some more raised beds in there next year.

The vegetable garden beyond the greenhouse did well again and we harvested the first few spears from the asparagus I planted in 2008. I grew onions from seed for the first time; that harvest is down in the root cellar and will last a good few months yet. It wasn't such a good year for potatoes (although there are still a fair few in storage) but we got more peas and corn than we did in 2008, though still not enough of either to have any left over to freeze. On the other hand, we did end up with rather a lot of cabbages. I grew too many from seed and no-one was interested in buying baby cabbages at my first ever plant-sale. Despite the disappointing cabbage sales, that was a useful and very enjoyable experience which has given me a better idea of what people might like to buy next year.

We got the first apples, plums and pears from the slowly-growing orchard trees. Actually the chickens got most of the apples, so those trees need to get growing more quickly if I'm ever to get the benefit of the fruit for the human members of the household.  This leads me on conveniently to May's acquisition of the said birds. They've been a source of fascination for me, never having got close to a chicken before. It seemed a long time before we got that first egg, but they're all now laying in a manner that more than compensates for the stolen apples. We lost two of them in recent months: one hen to an unknown predator and one of the roosters to another Buff Orpington enthusiast.

The minor fault with the geothermal system that I reported on in 2008 was fixed and the attic was properly insulated early in the year, giving us a comfortably warm home and saving a considerable amount in heating costs. The solar panels have been in full production since 9 January and over 2009 we've exported one megawatt-hour of power each month, on average. To put that into context, this is equivalent to 90% of the electricity we've taken from the grid in the same period. A longer-term aim will be to export more than we use. Another first for this year was our involvement in the Green Homes Tour. That was hard work, but great fun and led to Mike's five minutes of fame on YouTube.

Inside the house we've done a fair bit of painting: two bedrooms, hall, landing, stairs, dining room and downstairs cloakroom. There's a new white toilet and basin in the latter, too, installed by Mike (his first major piece of plumbing work) and replacing the delightful Harvest Gold* combo that was there before. Our main upstairs bathroom needs similar treatment: the suite there is an almost equally revolting 1970s shade of pale brown (which I'm sure has a similarly misleading name: please comment if you can tell me what it is!). Unfortunately, that job is going to require more major remodelling but I'd like to think that we might be able to get it done in 2010.

*If Harvest Gold is new to you, have a look at another blogger's attempts to make her Harvest Gold bathroom look beautiful.

28 December 2009

Brief interruption

It felt almost like Spring yesterday. The heavy rain of Boxing Day had melted a lot of the snow and the daytime temperature was above freezing point after a ten-day stretch of being below it.

The chickens got to roam the orchard for the first time since the big snowstorm on 9 December.

This morning, though, it's back to regular winter.

27 December 2009

When life gives you oranges...

We were given some grapefruit and oranges by a generous neighbour and I'd run out of the marmalade I made in February. Usually I'd wait until I could get Seville oranges, but they might not turn up for several weeks. The combination of a surplus of citrus and a paucity of preserves determined that this should be a marmalade-making morning. I used the same method as in February, but this time with a mixture of grapefruit and oranges.

Eating this will be like having sunshine on toast for breakfast: just what we need in the darkest days of the year.

24 December 2009

Four hens a-laying

The hens don't seem to be missing their erstwhile lord and master too much. We got a record-breaking eight eggs from them yesterday and they've been queuing up to use the nest boxes today, too.

And then there were ten

It was an odd journey to work yesterday. Next to me in the passenger seat was one of our roosters, on his way to Deseronto with me. We ended up with two male birds in our batch of twelve supposed-females and I had been thinking that we would have to kill one of them until I heard that another Buff Orpington-keeper might be interested in taking one off our hands as breeding stock for his hens.

The dominant one (known as Cocky) has been acting increasingly aggressively towards me (less so to Mike), so there was little debate as to which of the two would be sent off. Consequently, I packed him into a cardboard box yesterday morning and drove off to work with him next to me. I was worried that he would try to escape from the box and generally be a road-safety hazard, but he was as good as he is golden. Which made me feel guilty about getting rid of him.

When I arrived at his new home I was greeted by the man who was to take custody of him. He had blood on his boots as, he explained, he had just killed one of his own roosters. One that had been acting aggressively. I hope Cocky behaves himself...

Here he is in a photo taken last week, in characteristic 'king of the castle' pose with some of his harem around him. The pretender to his throne is also in this picture. Things should be more peaceful in the hen house now.

22 December 2009

Growing tips

One of our neighbours gave me some amaryllis bulbs last month. I've never nursed amaryllis plants into life before, so have been watching them with interest. One of the five seemed unresponsive to my tender care but this morning I spotted a small green shoot emerging from it. Usually I'm hopeless at looking after houseplants. Keeping these in the kitchen where I notice them more often seems to be helping. I dug the rosemary plant out of the garden last week and have placed it next to the amaryllis pots. So far, that is surviving, too, unlike last year's specimen which I put in the basement and completely forgot about.

It's good to have something that's actively growing while everything outside is frozen and white.

18 December 2009

Another sunrise

So, what I was saying yesterday about it not being long before the lake would be frozen turned out to be more accurate than I expected. Couldn't resist taking a chilly walk along the side of it this morning to catch the sunrise reflected in the ice (before it gets covered with snow!).

17 December 2009


The lake is not yet frozen, although it won't be long before it is. The cold weather and the waves generated by the high winds last week have left some strange and beautiful ice-sculptures along its banks. I like the Santa-beard on our neighbours' bent willow tree:

All down the lake the trees have been decorated in sparkly dangles of ice:

The shapely icicles on this fallen branch look striking with the light behind them:

Ice creatures

Cold enough this morning (-15°C/5°F) for delicate ice forms to appear inside the double-glazing. This could be a moth, or maybe a bird:

This one looks like two spiders:

14 December 2009

Turkey trot*

A soothing mixture of colours at the almost-frozen pond yesterday.

The area was being visited by a group of wild turkeys when I turned up with the dog. When he arrived they took off into the trees, with much heavy beating of wings. I've never managed to get a close look at them, thanks to Toby, but did manage to grab a distant shot of one, before it flew further away.

They left behind ample evidence of their visit. The footprints made me feel as though I were following a treasure-trail created by someone who was determined that I shouldn't lose my way.

*I was interested to learn from Wikipedia that the original dance of this name gained its popularity after being denounced by the Vatican (a pre-Internet version of the Streisand effect?). According to the New York Times, the newly-elected US president, Woodrow Wilson, cancelled the traditional Inaugural Ball in 1913 because
he feared there would be indulgence in the "turkey trot," the "bunny hug," and other ragtime dances, and thus provoke what might amount to a National scandal.

12 December 2009

New layer

It is hard to know how many of the chickens are laying (or not laying) now, but I think we can assume that the egg on the left here is from a hen who is fairly new to the game!

The egg was the perfect size to make an egg wash for the batch of mince pies I made this morning. The mincemeat filling was a cranberry and orange one, based on a recipe from Lakeland [which has now vanished - but this one on the BBC site looks very similar]. You cook the apples before making the mincemeat, which wasn't a method I'd used before, but the results were fantastic. I'd go as far as to say that this is the best mincemeat I've ever tasted. The only changes I made were to replace the regular suet with vegetable suet and I didn't have any walnuts, so I put slivered almonds in there instead.

11 December 2009

Snowy sunset

I was whining earlier this month about how cold it was as I waited for a decent photograph of the setting sun. While taking today's photo, the wind was blowing at 22 miles per hour and the outside temperature was -6°C/22°F. The 'feels like' temperature was a brisk -17°C/1.4°F. I don't know what I was complaining about on Sunday when the equivalent temperature was a positively warm -4°C/28°F.

09 December 2009

Fake winter, real winter

Tuesday morning dawned bright, with a civilised sprinkling of snow on the ground.

It had fallen gently in a windless night, creating delicate highlights on the trees and little white hats for the seedheads of the Queen Anne's Lace plants.

"This isn't too bad," I thought. "Maybe winter isn't as awful as I remembered it."

Today the real winter came. High winds, heavy snow and a horrible drive to work. The sort of journey that demands intense concentration and leaves you feeling washed out for an hour after you've finished travelling. This kind of winter doesn't look or feel pretty.

Now that's more how I remember it.

08 December 2009

Light alighting

A chickadee inspecting the Christmas lights.

06 December 2009

Next season

Tonight's was one of those winter sunsets that keeps you pinned to the spot as it tempts you with the promise of being even more photogenic in another five minutes. Never mind that there is a chill wind blowing across the fields towards you and that your thighs are beginning to freeze; you stay, beguiled, hoping to be there for that winning moment.

I've just realised that this is also what supporting a sports team must be all about. Now I get it.

04 December 2009

Disaster recovery (again)

If you were reading this blog back in January, you'll perhaps remember that I resolved to eschew supermarket drink cartons and snacks for the children's school packed lunches and, instead, provide home-made sweet snacks for them. I even got around to posting some of the recipes on the blog, too.

In August, with the new school year fast approaching, I decided to make a huge batch of chocolate chip muffins, which I would then store in batches in the freezer for use later in the year. Luckily, we had occasion to test them before September: we found that they tasted revolting. I had forgotten to add sugar and the overriding flavour was one of baking powder. Not very nice.

For nearly four months I've had this pile of carefully-wrapped muffins in a corner of the freezer, silently mocking me for my incompetence. Every so often Mike would say "What are you going to do with those muffins?", which didn't help at all.

Today I broadcast my problem on Twitter and got some useful responses:
  • Crumble them and turn them into a steamed pudding
  • Use them as the base of a trifle/tiramisu (three votes for this)
  • Make them into something like a bread-and-butter pudding
  • Mix them with a tin of over-syruppy cherries and then add to vanilla ice-cream
I've got so many minging muffins that I think all of these options will be used over the coming months (and if you've got further suggestions, please share them). I started tonight with the bread-and-butter pudding idea. I found a recipe (by a blogger who'd had a similar cake-related disaster) for Twice Baked Chocolate Cake, which I adapted for use with the muffins. I used just milk, rather than cream and milk and I obviously didn't leave out the sugar, as the blogger (Linda) suggests (not this time, anyway). I left the sugary custard mixture to soak into the muffin pieces for an hour so that they would suck up the sweetness and (I hoped) become edible again. The finished product wouldn't win any prizes in a 'most beautiful dessert' show, but it smelt wonderful. The original muffins, on the other hand, looked delicious, which goes to prove what I've always felt about food - looks aren't everything (or even anything).

I didn't tell the children what was in the dessert until they had both declared it "delicious". It was, too. It only used five muffins out of the sixty, so we will definitely be eating this again. Will have to try the trifle/tiramisu plan next...