Monday, 18 September 2017

Colours of the end of Summer

Fall Aster
Fall Crocus
The leafy show of colour increases each day
A huge red sun each evening, instead of a sunset.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Gooseberry Jam

This year I actually got to the gooseberries before the Orioles and the Red Winged Blackbirds ate them all.   I've had the gooseberry bush full of berries, just starting to ripen one day and the next morning, the bush has been stripped clean.  These are green gooseberries, from an ancient bush which probably needs to be replaced.   They are quite small and the the bush quite prickly.    I'd like to replace it with a modern hybrid with those big, fat, juicy berries!     However, I was able to pick 932 g of berries, just starting to ripen, with a few of them even deep red and quite ripe.

 I topped and tailed them, cleaning the blossom and stem ends from them, rinsed and tossed them in the freezer for future use.    This past Sunday at Westfield, I made gooseberry jam on the Happy Thoughts Range, wood cookstove in the Misener house.    I found an old advertisement for the Happy Thought Range model, similar to the one in the Misener house.   The stove in the Misener house is from 1890.   It has beautiful scroll work and details on it.   This model with the water reservoir sold for between $65 and $90, depending on what sort of details you wanted.  

Victorian Gooseberry jam recipes call for anywhere from 3/4 lb of sugar per lb of fruit to 1 1/2 lbs of sugar per lb of fruit.   I pre-measured 932 g of sugar and then in a separate bag, had another 415 g of sugar, in case it was needed.    The instructions say to cook the fruit with a little water for about 15 minutes.  Then add the sugar (stirring to dissolve it completely) and cook until when a few drops on a cold plate leave a trail when your finger runs through it.   

Since gooseberries, like currants, contain a lot of natural pectin, this was a fairly fast process.   I made sure the stove was loaded up with wood before I put the jam pot on.   The berries were added to the pot with 500 mls of water and cooked for about 15 minutes, coming to a boil.   They softened and were easily mashed, releasing the little black seeds and crushing most of the berries.   A few berries remained whole, which looks lovely in the jar.
The sugar was added, stirred well.  Adding the sugar not only increases volume but draws out liquid from the fruit, reducing the pulpy look to the jam.   The jam was brought back to a boil and after another 10 minutes or so, I did the cold plate test and it was almost ready.   The next check was 5 minutes later, and the jam was perfect. 

I let it cool for a few minutes because if you bottle the jam too hot, the fruit will rise to the top rather than be suspended.  From start to finish, it took about 45 minutes to have lovely, bottled jam.  

Results:   This is amazing jam.   It has a great texture and it is so very tasty.   It is slightly tart and very fruity.   It is also a very pretty jam.  I can imagine how lovely it would look if I had more fully ripe berries.

  I highly advise people to plant a gooseberry bush in their yard.  They require little care other than occasional feeding and pruning.   It's not like you can run out to the market and pick up a basket of gooseberries around here, so it's the only way to get your own supply.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Spinning, weaving, crafty stuff and never ending cat sagas.

Two for one photo here!   The second blue rug with the painted warp!  I've about 1/4 of the rag strips left to weave.   This rug is really pretty.   This area of the warp is greens, yellows and blues which show up nicely.   The next rug will be in a  part of the warp which is mainly reds and purples.   I am considering what colour weft would look best with that combination.   I wish I had some grey to use, but I don't have anything remotely grey in enough yardage to work.

The skein is the merino I've been spinning.    It turned out quite nicely.  I've gotten two skeins plied and need to decide if I'm going to finish spinning this merino or set it aside for now.   It's a lovely, soft, slightly springy yarn which would be nice for a shawl or scarves.

I'd been looking for a inexpensive wreath form and couldn't find anything locally for a reasonable price.  Finally, I grabbed some clippers and went to town on some of the many vines growing around here.   I started with some Bittersweet vines.  They aren't actually thorny, but they have these little sharp bits that look like leaf or berry nodes.   After cutting and trimming two vines, and then pulling several of those sharp bits from my skin, I decided that the abundant Virginia creeper might be a better option.  

Indeed, it was much easier to work with.   I wound the vines into a circle and wired them together.   Lots of instructions on the interwebs suggest just winding the vines in and around themselves.  However most of the vines I was able to harvest were only 4 - 5 feet long, so wiring seemed to be more secure.   The vines are green and need to dry.   There is a risk of them warping somewhat as they dry.    I let the wreath dry a couple of days.  It started to warp just a bit, so I wired on the decorations.   I hung it inside for a few more days drying and then tossed it on the front door today.    It's maybe a little too early for autumnal decor, but Labour Day weekend has always felt like the end of summer to me.   I managed to accentuate the warp by loading too many silk leaves on the inside, instead of the outside, but still, for a crafty wreath which cost less than $10, I'm pretty happy with it.

My son built this cat tree for the boys.  Kevin loves being on the top, but he hasn't actually figured out how to get up there himself.   Phil climbs the scratching post and naps on the bottom two  platforms, so if I lift Kevin up to his perch, they are both happy.  The old cat who is about 13 years old, hasn't even sniffed it.  He's quite happy sleeping in a pile of wool blankets on the couch!

Phil's brother kitty, who we have been feeding and protecting on our porch, with a really nice kitty house, including a heated sleeping pad and heated water bowl is now in the garage.    I found the neighbour's grey cat attacking the poor guy and he was pushed up against the garden fence, with no way to escape.   The grey cat moved away a few feet when I tried to shoo him away, but wouldn't leave.   I scooped up the second ginger kitty and he's now stashed safely in the garage.     He is quite friendly, although not as people needy as Phil is.   He doesn't like to be picked up, cuddled, nor is he a lap kitty.  He does like to be petted though and loves to have people nearby to hang out with him.   I don't want another indoor cat.   I don't think we really have the space for another indoor kitty.  However, we really think these kitties were drop offs and were once someone's pets.   I can't honestly say that I'm happy to leave him out to be picked on by bully cats and eat by the coyotes or raccoons.  What to do?  What to do?

Saturday, 2 September 2017

1909 Carrot Cake

This recipe was a recent challenge on the Westfield Facebook page.  The recipe has been translated for modern usage as well, at about half size.   I used the modern recipe but just realized that the sugar was left at the full amount.  The cake was good, and was sweet enough that it didn't need an icing or sugar coating.  However, I was thinking that halving the sugar would probably make it more of a quick bread, rather than a cake - not necessarily a bad thing.   I will try this next time.

The modern recipe posted  calls for

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup grated carrot
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 cups flour
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup milk

I used vegan margarine instead of the butter.   I upped the spices a bit using a heaping tsp cinnamon, 3/4 tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp nutmeg.    I used just under 2 cups of gluten free flour mixture, omitted the raisins (didn't have any on hand), substituted almond milk for the regular milk.  I also added 1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum and 1 egg.

This cake was really delicious.   I've not been a huge fan of carrot cake, I think due to the heavily oil based modern cakes.     This cake was light and had a great texture.   It had a really good flavour as well.    It is definitely a keeper recipe.   The recipe is simple enough that there is a lot of room to play around with textures and flavours.  The sugar could be reduced a bit.   You could up the spices or leave them out completely as in the original recipe.   What about adding walnuts or almonds?  Yum!
I wonder if you could substitute zucchini for the carrots?  How about replacing 1/4 cup of flour with the same amount of cocoa for a chocolate carrot cake?

One of the things that I appreciated about this recipe is that it was really quick to make up.   The part that took the longest was grating a cup of carrots and that was no time at all.   I used standard quick bread/cake directions -  mixed the butter, sugar and egg.  Then added all the dry ingredients, carrot and milk.   I stirred it all together and poured it into a greased pan.    I used a loaf pan but an 8 or 9 inch pan would work too.    I baked it at 350° until it tested done.    I find that baked good without dairy products don't tend to brown as nicely, but the taste and texture are fine.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

A busy weekend and a full pantry

I'd planned to go to a local SCA demo called Middle Ages on the Green and life decided to intervene.   First, the menfolk decided to start shingling the garage.   I wasn't 100% comfortable about going off to play while they were slaving away on the roof and having to cook their own supper, but I thought I could toss something in the crock pot for them, or make sure I was home early enough to solve that problem.

 Then 50 lbs of tomatoes dropped into my lap on Friday.  I knew that my play day on Saturday was to be put on hold.   After running around doing errands in the morning, I spent the afternoon and part of the evening, canning.   That was blanching, chopping, heating, crushing, bottling and hot water processing all those tomatoes for hours and hours.   Thirty seven jars later, I considered that I didn't think I did quite so many tomatoes last year.    We'll be eating tomatoes all winter!

I also had some blue prune plums, the kind with the yellow flesh and dark purple skins.   I turned them into jam as they all ripened exactly at once.   I wish I had a photo of the before and after of this jam.  The before was this ugly yellow mush with dark flecks.   As it came to a boil though, the dark flecks of the peel, started to dissolve and the plum jam ended up a beautiful dark ruby red/purple colour.  Sooooo very pretty and incredibly tasty too.

I was at Westfield again today.  I was in the Misener house, which has an awesome wood cook stove.   I was going to make gooseberry jam but after all that canning, I was plumb tired of processing.  Instead, I dug up some carrots and beets from the Lockhart garden and tossed them in a pan with a piece of beef and some potatoes.  I brought them home for dinner so that the hardworking shingling menfolk had supper, but I still got to get out and play.   Those freshly dug carrots and beets were so delicious!  It was crazy busy today at the village though, with lots of interesting people out.  The day just flew by. 

Monday, 21 August 2017

Kitty update, Victorian knitting project

Kevin and Phil made friends fairly quickly.   After about 3 days of ignoring one another, there was a day of sniffs and growls, then a day of sniffs.  That night they were playing, chasing each other around the house and general wildness.   After a day or two of hard playing, Kevin's cranky leg gets sore and he starts limping again, so he takes it easy for a day or two until he's good to go again.   If I'm not around to provide Phil with a lap to sleep on, the two of them sleep on my bed.

I made some pickles last week at Westfield, in the Misener house.   The beets and cucumbers from the Lockhart garden were ripe.   The beet recipe was strait out of Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, I had to adapt the pickle recipes somewhat as I didn't have a crock to store them in.  I didn't run them through a hot water bath, so they are refrigerator pickles.

 I decided to do start another knitting project as I wanted a shawl or wrap to wear in the cooler weather at Westfield.   This pattern is in the November, 1864 issue of Godey's Ladies Book (vol. 69).  I downloaded a facsimile and was able to print out the pattern instructions.  Someone has very nicely put the instructions on Ravelry as well.  The article in the magazine says the original was made with a varigated violet and black centre and fringe with black and gold contrasting stripes.   It says solid colour yarns are cheaper than the varigated colours and natural colours are the least expensive.  You can use any weight of yarn for this and the article points out that if you use strong yarns, it is suitable for charity knitting.   This is an easy to knit, utility shawl, but it isn't mindful, careful knitting.  It's garter stitch, garter stitch and more garter stitch, with a few increases tossed in.

I was originally thinking that a cream or light grey shawl with brown and grey stripes would work nicely.   However this white tweedy yarn was on sale - super sale really, with a packet of 5 skeins for a bit less than the price of 2 skeins.   That really made the choice of colour a moot point.   However when I knit it up, the white had no life to it.   It is a cold, dull white and the black bits just looked unappealing.    So into the dye pot it went.   I decided on blue though, in an attempt to minimize the black bits.    I was going to use woad or Japanese Indigo, as I have lots ready to use in the garden, but I didn't have enough time in one stretch available.  Instead I used acid dyes and I'm pretty happy with the way the colour turned out.   I have a lovely grey marl for at least one of the stripes. I might still go with the brown for the other.    I only dyed 6 of the 10 skeins I'd purchased for this project, so I have 4 left to dye another colour, if I need one for the stripe.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Fox attacks and new kitty!

The other evening we found a pile of feathers and were missing a chook.   It was under the treed area, but I'd seen the eagle hanging out there in the early summer, so I thought it might be a hawk strike.  A little odd for under the trees though.   The next evening, my son yelled and ran outside.   Two red foxes had a chicken and were trying to run off with it.  This was the mess they left behind.  The chook was saved though she's missing most of her tail feathers and a few more besides.    The foxes tried twice more that evening and we managed to stop them all.  Finally I was able to round up the girls and get them into their coop.  I kept them there for 3 days in hopes of getting the foxes to move on.  So far it seems to have worked.   We thought we were down 2 chickens in all, but we heard one who was hiding in a hedgerow and she came home shortly after we called to her.

The orange cat who was lurking about for the past couple of weeks turned out to be two tiny cats, obviously siblings.  One day, the cat on the right came up the the back door and started crying loudly, trying to get in.   He turned out to be quite friendly and he let me give him a quick once over.  He was super skinny.  You could clearly feel the vertebrae and his sides were hollow.   His coat was strawlike and very coarse.   Of course I fed him.  The next day, he came with his brother and I fed the two of them for a couple of weeks.   They started to look healthier or at least less starving.  The one on the right, who let me pet him started staying around here but the second cat, came and went.   Then the brother just disappeared, leaving his brother here, alone.  Our orange deck kitty would sit on our laps and purr and purr for as long as you'd let him.  He'd cry at the door when he wanted food, water or just for some company.  He'd sit on the windowsill all evening until it was too dark to see.   

Phil outside
One evening we were around the campfire and there was some animal making weird noises in the nearby bushes.  It was unsettling enough that we cut our campfire time short and moved inside.   Our orange deck kitty started crying at the door and them moved to any window he could find and cried at those too.   I guess you can see where this is going....   We scooped up the orange kitty and moved him into the garage for a couple of days, until I could get him to a vet.   He was happy  as anything in the garage, not panicking to get out and loved having people visit him.   We figured he was just about 5 or 6 months old, due to his size, but after a thorough check up, where he was vaccinated and declared not likely to be a risk to our own house kitties, he's moved inside.   The vet said he's just a tiny cat, about a year old, who has had a bit of a rough life.   He's going back in a couple of weeks to get those dangley bits removed.   

Phil is another kitty who likes to sleep on wool blankets
  Al named our little orange kitty Phil.  Phil seems to have adjusted quite nicely to being a house cat.  He's gained a bit of weight and his fur is getting soft and silky.

  We never did figure out what animal was making the odd noises but it was just before the fox attacks, but we'll never know for sure.   Phil's brother comes back once in a while but he is much more feral than our new baby.    I guess in all this was a lucky week.  Lucky in that so far we only seemed to have lost one chook in the fox attacks and lucky that a sweet, feral kitty chose us to save him.