30 December 2013

Individual steamed puddings

One of my Christmas presents was this set of silicone tea cups, designed to hold cupcakes. I don't often make cupcakes, but it occurred to me that they'd be good for making individual steamed puddings - and at this time of year I make a lot of those. It's compulsory to eat steamed puddings when it's this cold.

This quantity makes four little cupcake puddings - one is not really enough to make a satisfying dessert, but if you've already had a big main course, it is nice as a 'sweet nothing' afterwards. Two would be perfect (I just have to persuade the children to leave home...).


75g/3oz butter
75g/3oz sugar
1 egg
75g/3oz flour (I used a mixture of wholemeal and white)
1 tsp baking powder
1-2 tbsp milk
4 teaspooons golden syrup or jam

Beat the sugar into the butter until creamy, add the egg and mix well, then stir in the flour and baking powder. If the mixture is very stiff, add milk to loosen it up a bit - it should drop off a spoon if you tap it against the side of the bowl.

Grease the cases with butter or oil and put a teaspoon of syrup or jam in the bottom of each one. Spoon the pudding mixture into the cases (muffin cases would work here, too) and place them in the top of a steamer.

I cut some parchment paper to fit the steamer basket and put that over the cups to stop water dripping into them. You could use foil instead.

Steam the puddings for 40 minutes until cooked through.You can eat them in the cups or turn them out onto plates or saucers and add some cream or ice cream.

27 December 2013

Christmas decorations

I don't do a lot of interior Christmas decorations - just the tree and a few lights. But Mother Nature does an excellent job outdoors - and I'd much rather admire her handiwork.

26 December 2013

Icy sunsets

 I have to admit that when I heard we were likely to get an ice storm, my first selfish thought was 'I might get some nice photos'. After experiencing the two days with no power I doubt that will be my first thought next time, but there certainly have been some good photo opportunities after the storm. Sunset is a particularly atmospheric time of day. I took this photo on Christmas Eve. Someone on Twitter described it as 'awesome landscape porn'. ;-)

And I took this one this evening. The ice has melted a bit today, with slightly warmer temperatures and the sun shining all afternoon.

24 December 2013

Post-storm ruminations

Our power was restored at some point before midnight last night - a total of over 50 hours without mains electricity. We coped fairly well, although there are some things we might have done differently if we'd realised we were going to be without power for quite that long.

We've got a bank of batteries hooked up to the solar panels, so power cuts aren't usually a big deal for us. When the power goes down, there's a short pause, then system switches automatically over to the batteries and our lights come back on. On Saturday and Sunday we still had running water, thanks to that. We turned the geothermal heating off, but initially we still had the hot water heater running, which (in hindsight) we should probably have turned off sooner.

By Sunday evening we were running low on the backup power and there had been no sunshine to top up the batteries (there wasn't any on Monday, either - and a light dusting of snow came down and covered the panels, which wasn't going to help). We ran out of power completely at midnight on Sunday. The woodstoves did a good job of keeping the house warm, but I was worried about the water/sanitation side of things, as we need power to run the water pump. The usual advice is to fill the bath with water before the power goes out, but we hadn't done that and I wished we had - it would have been useful to have that water for flushing toilets. We drained the water that was left in the system into jugs and had plenty for drinking.

The fridge and freezers were without power for 24 hours and when I checked the fridge temperature after the power came back on it was only two degrees above the 'safe' zone on the fridge thermometer. We didn't open the freezers at all, so they should be fine after that period.

I was able to make hot food and drinks with the kitchen woodstove - we had omelettes, soup, quesadillas and a risotto during the outage. I'm really looking forward to being able to use my electric oven again today, though!

During Monday there were signs that people were working to get the power back on - at seven different times the fridge and freezer briefly came to life, raising our hopes, before subsiding back into silence. You realise how dependent you are on electricity when something like this happens. I spent my time reading to entertain myself, but the children both struggled without access to electronic devices (and through them, their social networks) - and we played a lot of card games. When the power came back on, Child#2 promised me that he'd never complain of boredom again.

The living room looked really cosy by candlelight, but I would have enjoyed it more if there hadn't been that nagging worry about when power would be restored and how we would cope for another day without it.

I'm very grateful to the power crews who have been working so hard to get everyone reconnected: I have a feeling that Christmas 2013 will be one to remember!

22 December 2013

Ice storm

We have had two day's worth of rain, which wouldn't have been a problem except that the air temperatures were below freezing, so it formed a lethal layer of ice over everything and has caused a lot of damage to trees and to power lines.

Our power went out yesterday afternoon and still isn't back sixteen hours later. We're running off our solar panel-powered backup batteries, but as there's no sunshine around today we're using as little of it as possible - just keeping the fridge and water pump going, and non-turnoffable things like the smoke alarms. And the woodstove in the kitchen is coming in handy for making hot drinks and keeping us all warm!

Yesterday the ice formed a layer about half an inch/1cm thick over the snow, which made walking pretty difficult - almost impossible in places. I found that my snow shoes were the best way of getting around.

Overnight, some of the precipitation turned to snow, which has made it much easier to walk outside this morning. I hope it has made life a bit easier for the crews working to clear the roads and reconnect the power lines.

It looks like the worst of the storm is over for now. Not an experience I'd want to repeat too often.

I did manage to (inexpertly) ice the Christmas cake yesterday. Seems I chose an apt design!

09 December 2013

December glut

Two words that don't often come together in these northerly latitudes of Planet Earth, I know. But that's what I'm facing in the swede/rutabaga and leek department today.

The temperatures aren't going to get above freezing for the next two week, so I really needed to get outside and bring in the remaining leeks and root crops and dig up a few more sunchokes. I can't say it was exactly warm out there today, but it was (just) above freezing, so it was possible to get a fork in the ground. I was certainly quite warm by the time I'd finished digging this lot up and shovelling the slushy snow off the driveway!

The leeks vary from 'respectable' to 'micro' in size, but I haven't managed to grow any at all for the last year or two, so I'm pleased with this crop. Now I just need to work out what to do with them all...

07 December 2013

Decking the halls

A warm day on Thursday removed the last of the previous week's snow, but it's back to cold weather again now. Averagely cold, though, so not really something to complain about and it looks like there is snow in the forecast for the next week or two.

This morning I went out with the dog to identify a suitable candidate for this year's Christmas tree. I found one in the line of trees that is growing in between the two halves of the hayfield and marked it so that Mike and Child#2 can go and harvest it later.

Then I went into the woods to gather some evergreen branches for additional decorations. We've got a few dogwoods growing around the property and I harvested some of the side shoots off those as well, to add a bit of contrast. I really love being able to gather all these things from our own backyard!

And here's the finished product - a simple garland of greenery over the verandah. Now all it needs is an inch or two of snow and it'll look fittingly festive.

UPDATE (Monday morning): The weather obligingly gave me the necessary finishing touch. ;-)

29 November 2013

First snow

Tuesday night and Wednesday morning brought our first snow of the winter. It was a windless night, which meant that the snow piled up in impressive layers on top of everything. I was out early, taking Child#1 to school for a trip and the roads near us hadn't been ploughed then.

Later, on my way to work, I had to stop to take this photo of the sumacs at the end of our road. I love the way they look after snow.

In the days following the snow, the temperature dropped and the sun came out. This morning we woke to -17°C/1°F, which is pretty cold for here in November.

In the evenings, the three big silos in the farm next door are acting like a mini-Stonehenge, marking the progress of the sun towards the solstice.

23 November 2013

Ways with cabbage

With the weather due to take a wintry plunge this weekend, I decided that I'd better harvest the remaining cabbages from the barnyard. It made for a daunting pile:

I spent some time on Thursday shredding the heap. Two kilos of it are currently being turned into sauerkraut, I blanched and froze another batch and have been using the remainder fresh in meals: a simple braised cabbage for supper last night and as an ingredient in hash browns for breakfast today. I'm not sure how authentic it is as to have cabbage in hash browns, but it seemed like a good way of using up one of the smaller Savoy cabbages (and it really was small - about the size of a tennis ball!).

I never made hash browns when we lived in England, although I did sometimes eat them in hotel breakfast buffet spreads. Home-made are much nicer and really easy, I discovered quite recently. With the addition of cabbage, they are quite like bubble-and-squeak, so perhaps this recipe should be called squeak browns, or bubble hash. Or something...

Anyway, here is the recipe. This is enough to serve four people:

Squeak Hash Bubble Browns

2 medium-sized potatoes (unpeeled)
1 onion, peeled
1 very small Savoy cabbage, shredded
quarter of a cup of flour
salt/pepper/spices (whatever you fancy - I put some smoked garlic powder in this batch, but I'll often add paprika or maybe some shredded sage)
1 tablespoon butter or oil

If you have a food processor with a grater attachment, the easiest way to make this is to put the potato and onion through that. Or you can use a regular grater. Put a non-stick frying pan on a medium heat and add the butter or oil. Meanwhile, mix the grated and shredded vegetables together and stir in the flour and seasonings. Once the pan is hot, pack the hash brown ingredients into it so that they form a layer about 1cm/half an inch thick. Then leave it to cook for about seven minutes.

After that time, use a plastic spatula to divide the mixture into four (assuming you're feeding four) pieces. Carefully flip each one over and leave it for another seven minutes until the other side is brown and crispy.

My cabbage cornucopia is looking a little less intimidating now:

17 November 2013


While I was away there were a few hard frosts which finished off the more tender greenhouse crops. I cleared out all the tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and beans yesterday. There are still some peas, kale, coriander, parsley, and a few carrots, parsnips and beets in there, but there is a lot of empty space now, ready for next year's crops. Talking of which, I received a wonderful surprise in the post recently from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I'd sent them a recipe for their seed catalogue and in return got a paint-pot-tin full of heirloom seeds for next year, including a number of things I've never grown from seed (asparagus, water melon, celery, turnips, and okra, for example). Very exciting, and just what I need as I'm putting the garden to bed for the winter!

The chickens enjoyed the remaining tomatoes:

I had some pumpkins curing in the greenhouse, so I've brought those in before they get damaged by the harsher frosts. Though they clashed horribly with the pink plastic trug.

Outside, there are still some swedes, kale, cabbages, sprouts and parsnips to harvest. And my trusty sunchokes which will keep providing food in mild spells throughout the winter.

14 November 2013

Bright berries

Oh dear, over a month since my last post? It's been a busy one, I must say, but I hadn't realised it had been that long. 

I got home from a short trip back to the UK on Tuesday. The difference in the scenery between there and here at the moment is stark. Here there are very few leaves left on the trees and the main colour is from dogwood branches and the occasional bright berry. Over there, a mild October has meant that most of the trees still have their leaves - and there are still roses in flower!

I noticed the berries on this tall shrub at the edge of the highway as we drove to Toronto last week and was pleased to find some on a local road here today. I've tried without success to identify the plant - if you know what it is, please comment! I don't think I've seen it before and the berries are a beautifully bright orange.

OK, answering my own question here, but I think this plant might be Winterberry (Ilex verticillata). It's certainly well-named!

06 October 2013


 Another first for me this year was getting a harvest from the two large wild grape vines that are on the farm. There's one just on the fence behind the chicken's barn and another right at the back of the farm, sprawling over a hedge.

The grapes are very small, about the size of a pea, but I thought I should make use of them somehow. On my first excursion I picked six pounds.

After all that picking my hands looked liked I'd been taking part in a massacre.

I also went into the orchard and harvested this year's apple crop. Only five pounds of apples, but better than nothing!

Most of them were from a tree called 'Lady', which is an old French variety which produces teeny tiny apples (fit for a lady's delicate hand. Sigh. I'm clearly no lady.). Here's a close up of a few 'Ladies' with a couple of the more normal-sized apples for comparison.

With all this Lilliputian fruit, the one thing I decided fairly early on was that I wasn't going to spend hours picking every grape off the stems and peeling and coring each of those tiny apples. Making jelly seemed like the obvious choice, as it involves straining the fruit after it has been cooked, so you don't need to worry about unwanted pips and stalks.

For my first attempt, I just used the grapes. It didn't go well. I got to the straining-the-juice part, balancing the hot cooked fruit in some repurposed hosiery over a big bucket:

Then, under a second later, the precariously-balanced colander collapsed into the bucket with an almighty splash, leaving my kitchen floor and cupboards as further evidence of a terrible, bloody crime. Since I was standing there with camera in my hand, I recorded the scene.

I should have accepted that I was dealing with some bad jelly-making juju, but instead I persisted, boiling the juice with sugar and pectin. It never set properly: I now have several jars of a sort of runny wild grape syrup to show for all the hard work. It tastes alright and I think it will be OK on ice cream or pancakes, but it wasn't quite what I was hoping for. I think there was too much water in the mix and probably not enough pectin.

Unwilling to admit defeat, I tried again today, this time boiling down the apples and using their juice and the juice from another pound  or two of cooked grapes. I added more pectin than I did the first time and it seems to have worked - it's possible to turn the jars upside down without the jelly collapsing onto the lid, in any case.

Will I bother again another year? Probably: I really enjoy the process of harvesting wild food and I can see that turning the grapes and apples into jelly could become an autumnal ritual.

Maybe next year I'll manage it without the added ambiance of a ritual killing.

02 October 2013

Autumnal jewels

I love driving home on evenings like today's. The sun's low angle in the sky lights up the creeper and vine leaves in the hedgerows which are just turning red and yellow. They form gorgeous garlands of colour along the edges of the country lanes and I can't get enough of them.

It's somewhat of a miracle that I get home without driving into a ditch...

17 September 2013

The F word

I know I mentioned the F word in yesterday's post but, well, really. Before the equinox? It's just not cricket.

16 September 2013

Bean counting

The dried beans have been piling up over the last few weeks. On the left are the star performers - Cherokee Trail of Tears, which have been wonderfully productive. Next are the Hidatsa Red and Early Mohawk beans - respectable but not huge producers. On the right are the frankly rather disappointing Deseronto Potato beans. Only one of the beans I sowed germinated - there are more beans still to come from that plant, but I'm going to have to save them all for seed for next year so won't get to taste them this winter.

Nearly all the Trail of Tears beans have been picked now, but the plants don't give up that easily - there are flowers and baby beans visible on them again. I doubt these will reach the dry bean stage before we get a frost, but you've got to admire their persistence!

07 September 2013


If I had to summarise the summer of 2013 in a single word, that's the one I'd go for. Not that there has been endless rain, and we didn't get the horrendous floods that Calgary and Toronto saw this year, but there's definitely been more rain than we've had in recent summers - and it seems to have come in good long spells, rather than short thundershowers, which has been great after last year's dry season. The fact that I've now harvested several cauliflowers is evidence of that.

The temperatures were dead-on average for August and slightly higher than average for July, which just goes to show that my perception of the summer as being a cool one is completely wrong. Maybe it's just in comparison with earlier summers.

It's been a good year for the regular potatoes - this is my crop of 7kg of Pink Fir Apple potatoes.* I've still got to lift the Russet Burbank ones and the sweet potatoes, although the vines of the latter didn't grow as much as I was expecting them too. Sweet potatoes like hot and dry conditions, so I'm not expecting a stellar crop of those this year. Some you win...

*The dog was no help at all in digging them up, despite the proprietorial impression he's giving here.

03 September 2013

Plum preserve

When we lived in the UK I used to buy a fruit preserve by Bonne Maman - I think it was plums or peaches (or perhaps both). It was good as a fruit pie or crumble filling or to go with ice cream - it was softer in texture than a jam, but sweet.

I haven't seen the same product over here, but when I saw the plums coming along in the orchard I remembered it and thought I'd aim for something similar if the crop was a good one. The variety we're growing is 'Stanley'.

Mike and I harvested the plums today, fighting the wasps for them. There were over eight pounds in all - not bad for our first harvest - and I've converted all of them into preserve, in two batches. Once they'd been stoned and quartered, each batch weighed about four pounds, to which I added four cups of sugar and a little water. Then I just brought the mixture to a boil until my cooking thermometer read just under 100°C/210°F. As it's not a jam, you don't need to worry about reaching setting point and they don't need long cooking - about 15 minutes at boiling point is plenty.

The skins turn the cooking liquid a deep, ruby red, which looks fabulous with the light behind it.

This quantity of plums made nine one-pint jars of preserve. I processed eight of them in a hot-water canner to make sure they won't spoil in storage and thought we'd have the other one in the next week or two as a dessert. But Child#2 spotted the jar this evening and thought it would be really good to have it in a plum crumble RIGHT NOW. For quality control purposes, naturally.

He knows me too well. Guess what's in the oven...