30 June 2012

A rare post about cooking

The last time I posted about cooking was on March the 4th. Probably due for one of those then...

Mike came in with a handful of young onions and a sheepish expression on his face this afternoon.
"The weeds were growing underneath the onions," he explained. "So the onions came up, too."

I'd already planned a potato salad for supper, using new potatoes sourced from the farmers' market, the last of the peas I'd gathered from the greenhouse and some chicken thighs. Now I had to factor in these five smallish onions, too, Sometimes my life feels like an episode of Ready, Steady, Cook!

Something crispy seemed appropriate and I began hunting for something like the fried onion side dishes you get in restaurants. After extensive internet research (I read at least two recipes), I settled on following Ree Drummond's Onion Strings on her Pioneer Woman blog. Mostly because her style of writing made me laugh.
In the process of doing the recipe I learnt two things: 1) that you can make buttermilk by mixing white vinegar into regular milk and 2) that deep frying isn't as scary as I thought it was.

Deep frying just isn't something I do very often and I think there are several reasons for this. For one thing, there's the safety issue - it seems to me that I was bombarded with messages about how dangerous it is to have big pans of boiling fat around as I was growing up. Mostly from TV public safety broadcasts, but also from direct experience.

One scary moment happened during a visit from Father Christmas: every year a float came down our road with The Man Himself on it, fairy lights, sweets handed out to onlooking children and so on. It was a big treat. We went outside to see it one year and Mum had forgotten that she'd left the chip pan on. It caught fire and a brave (and, it has to be said, rather stupid) passer-by went into the house and carried the blazing pan outside into the front garden, leaving the kitchen slightly blackened but nothing worse than that.

I have a feeling that moving a burning pan full of fat was one of the things that the public information films advised against...

Then there was the neighbour in the same road who had once spilt hot fat onto her legs and was badly burned and scarred. Mum was first on the scene and it was fairly traumatic for her, too.

And alongside all those negative influences I also worry about how wasteful deep frying is, in terms of the amount of fat used. I suppose I should add health concerns to my list, but I don't think that's a big factor when it comes to my reluctance-to-fry.

Anyway, I digress. I used my mandolin to get the onion slices as thin as possible (with such small onions it's hard to cut them finely with a knife). I used sunflower oil rather than canola for the deep frying, as that's what I happened to have handy. They ended up looking like this:

They tasted great: crispy, savoury, altogether delicious and a good accompaniment to the potato/pea/chicken salad, which was dressed with the juices from cooking the chicken pieces, some Dijon mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Maybe it's not the healthiest meal I've ever made. But it was certainly local!

28 June 2012

Pumpkin patch

The plants in the experimental pumpkin patch we've carved out of the hayfield seem to be doing well. We've been lucky with the weather - there has been just enough rain to keep things going up there, although there were two frustrating nights when we watched storms pass closely to the north of us without dropping any rain. More storms are possible tonight. Fingers crossed.

The point of this bed was to avoid the squash bugs which destroyed all the cucurbits in the barnyard and greenhouse last year. I've sown cucumbers, melons, zucchini/courgettes and a variety of pumpkins and squash up there. As a control, I sowed two zucchini plants in the barnyard. They haven't been bothered by squash bugs yet, but there are loads of cucumber beetles on them which have turned the leaves into lacework in places. In contrast, the two zucchini plants in the hayfield are completely undamaged and much bigger than their barnyard cousins.

The only problem with the hayfield plants is their distance from the house (I know I shouldn't complain about this). If we get a good crop of zucchini and cucumbers it's going to be hard work carrying them back indoors!

On the way back from the pumpkin patch last night I had to do a double-take when I saw these flowers. For a moment I thought they were asters but then realised it was much too early in the summer. They're actually thistles; the flowers are much smaller than Canada thistles and so far I haven't been able to positively identify them. I don't think I've ever noticed them before.

12 June 2012

The extent of our civilization

It's been quiet around here recently, mostly because I've been madly busy with work, on or off the farm, or with campaigning to try and stay in work, given recent drastic cuts to funding for archives in Canada. The children and I spent a day in May demonstrating in Ottawa against the cuts.

It was great to see democracy in action like that and it's been wonderful to see the way that our small profession and those sympathetic to our principles have responded to the threats posed by the short-sighted decisions of the individuals currently in charge of Canada's national library and archives. There's an online petition with more details about the issue, if you are interested in what all the fuss is about.

As a consequence of losing a chunk of my income with these cuts, I took on a stall in the local farmers' market on Saturdays this summer. This has meant I've had to spend more time keeping the garden weeded/seeded and my weekends are correspondingly shorter. All in all, there's a lot less time for blogging, but at least I'm spending more time outside, one way or the other!

I went to the national archivists' conference was in Whitehorse this past week (more time away from those fast-growing weeds, ack!). The conference was the perfect place to be at a time of professional crisis like this: a sort of group therapy. The sense of solidarity among archivists from all over Canada (and beyond) was fantastic. A colleague of mine from Britain commented that she didn't think that UK archivists would react in the same way if there was a similar threat to archival funding over there. I think she might be right - and it's only when the Canadian archival system is under threat that you understand that its members do see it as a system, rather than just a loose affiliation of professionals. It's a shame the people at Library and Archives Canada don't recognise it as such...

The last stop on our trip to Ottawa on May 28th was the statue of Dominion Archivist Sir Arthur Doughty (the only statue in Ottawa to honour a civil servant). The words on the base of the statue are these:

Of all national assets, archives are the most precious. They are the gift of one generation to another and the extent of our care of them marks the extent of our civilization.