31 December 2011

Crème brûlée weather

We had about an inch of snow on Thursday night, followed last night by a short period of freezing rain. Walking outside this morning is like stepping through the crispy layer of a crème brûlée into the soft snow underneath. Very satisfying crunchy noises ensue.

Winter has its compensations.

I'm now congratulating myself for my laziness in not shovelling the front steps yesterday: it's a lot easier to shovel snow with a thin layer of ice than it is to remove a thin layer of ice from a hard surface.

29 December 2011

Advancing ice

Yesterday there were hints of ice at the edge of the stream, nothing more:

After a very cold, clear, night, the ice is now covering the stream completely:

Any blades of grass sticking out above the surface have been caked in their own covering of hoar frost. I never get tired of this effect. Makes me think of aerial photographs of pine forests...

26 December 2011

Boxing Day bonus

The mild winter (still no snow!) means that some of the greenhouse vegetables which would normally have been killed off by frost are still producing food. After the rich main meal of Christmas Day, it was time for something a little lighter for our Boxing Day lunch. I was able to harvest salad onions, some lettuce and dill, along with some young spinach leaves (these were about the only thing which would normally still be alive at this time of year).

The dill and onions were chopped up and combined with a block of cream cheese and some lemon juice, salt and pepper to make a quick and easy pasta sauce. Once the cooked pasta was coated with the sauce, I stirred in some leftover smoked salmon, cut into strips. The spinach was sliced into thin strips and mixed with the lettuce leaves and some chopped cucumber (not from the greenhouse - but it was Canadian!) to make a green salad to go with the pasta.

Then we completely ruined all that lightness and freshness by having Christmas Pudding for dessert. I didn't serve it yesterday, having finally learned from long experience that no-one is capable of eating it on Christmas Day.

23 December 2011

Christmas dinner harvest

There's a hard frost forecast for tonight and tomorrow, so just now I seized the window of opportunity of a mildish spell (a bracing 0°C) to dig up some winter vegetables for our Christmas dinner. I got a big haul of sunchokes and a good handful of Cavolo nero from the barnyard and some carrots, sage and parsley and the last of the beets from the greenhouse.

The Cavolo nero (black Tuscan kale) has been the surprise hit of the winter garden. It has a sweetish flavour and has been holding up well outside to the frosts we've had so far. It's good steamed or used in a stir-fry. Most of the other brassica crops did very badly in this year's cold and then very dry late spring, but this kale managed to survive all of that. I'm impressed by its resilience and will definitely grow it again next year.

13 December 2011

Non-white Christmas?

The Weather Network produced a story based on statistics released by Environment Canada on the likelihood of a white Christmas in various cities across the country. We don't have any snow on the ground at the moment and there isn't much in the forecast, as the end of the Fall season continues to be milder than usual. I went out for a bike ride yesterday, which isn't something I'd normally expect to be doing in mid-December.
The tree-foraging detail was out in force on Saturday. We repeated last year's self-sufficiency trick of cutting down one of our red cedars for our Christmas tree. Much more fun than picking up one wrapped in netting from a shop!

It seems that this might be the first Christmas for us in Canada where there isn't snow on the ground. Which doesn't bother me in the slightest, but has got me thinking about why it's such a big deal. When did people first start making a fuss about whether it's going to be a white Christmas or not? Is it all because of the song, 'White Christmas'? Was that the trigger? Can we blame Irving Berlin for this obsession? Or is this desire for snow on the ground older than that?

UPDATE: The BBC Magazine has a piece about Charles Dickens this week, which firmly places the blame on him:

Specifically, the idea of a white Christmas - which was and still remains a relatively uncommon occurrence in much of the UK - appears in A Christmas Carol as if it happened each and every year.

In his biography of Dickens, Peter Ackroyd wrote: "In view of the fact that Dickens can be said to have almost singlehandedly created the modern idea of Christmas, it is interesting to note that in fact during the first eight years of his life there was a white Christmas every year; so sometimes reality does actually exist before the idealised image."

I had a quick look at the Project Gutenberg version of the book and the word snow appears 12 times. Generally he's not romanticising it, though: he describes it quite realistically and is mainly using it as a contrast to the warmth and comfort of indoors and the high spirits of the people.

By this time it was getting dark, and snowing pretty heavily; and as Scrooge and the Spirit went along the streets, the brightness of the roaring fires in kitchens, parlours, and all sorts of rooms, was wonderful. Here, the flickering of the blaze showed preparations for a cosy dinner, with hot plates baking through and through before the fire, and deep red curtains, ready to be drawn to shut out cold and darkness. There all the children of the house were running out into the snow to meet their married sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts, and be the first to greet them.

The house fronts looked black enough, and the windows blacker, contrasting with the smooth white sheet of snow upon the roofs, and with the dirtier snow upon the ground; which last deposit had been ploughed up in deep furrows by the heavy wheels of carts and waggons; furrows that crossed and re-crossed each other hundreds of times where the great streets branched off; and made intricate channels, hard to trace in the thick yellow mud and icy water. The sky was gloomy, and the shortest streets were choked up with a dingy mist, half thawed, half frozen, whose heavier particles descended in a shower of sooty atoms, as if all the chimneys in Great Britain had, by one consent, caught fire, and were blazing away to their dear hearts’ content. There was nothing very cheerful in the climate or the town, and yet was there an air of cheerfulness abroad that the clearest summer air and brightest summer sun might have endeavoured to diffuse in vain.

 The phrase 'white Christmas' doesn't appear at all in the book. I had a look at the Google Ngram viewer, which searches across the text of books published between 1800 and 2000. It's case-sensitive, so I searched for both 'White Christmas' and 'white Christmas' and these were the results (click on the image for a closer look):

The red line is 'White Christmas', the blue one 'white Christmas'. A Christmas Carol was published in 1843 and, sure enough, the phrase starts appearing at about that time, increasing in popularity until the big bump after 1941, when Irving Berlin's song was first performed. It's not a very scientific analysis, I know, but perhaps the original concept does owe more to Dickens than to Berlin.

04 December 2011


The French tarragon which looked so woebegone a few weeks ago has come back to life after some intensive care in the kitchen:

And the remaining tomatoes are slowly ripening:

The greenhouse tomato plants were killed by frost in the last week of November and I spent an hour or so this morning clearing the plants and their supports from the beds. But it really hasn't been very cold yet this November and December (tempting fate by saying that, I know). I'm still picking broccoli florets from the plants in the greenhouse and the Tuscan black kale outside is producing well.

Yesterday morning brought a hoar frost. It turned these swamp milkweed seed pods furry:

And made the asters look like they were flowering all over again.