Sunday, 24 June 2012

Alchemy 101

I have always viewed canning, pickling, and preserving food as being one step removed from alchemy.  I understand the scientific explanation of what is happening and how the process stops food spoilage, but I have never done it myself.  The best I've ever done was put food in a heavy plastic bag and toss it in the freezer (only in the past few years have I started blanching things).  But having jam or pickles sitting on the shelf has always been the Holy Grail of cooking - the prize that was way out of reach.

So last year I decided I was going to put on my big-girl panties and figure out how to do this.  I've read extensively on the subject, watched a few YouTube videos, and figured that if the rest of the world could make jam and pickles, I could do it too.  I got a recipe book, and dug out my enormous stock pot that I use for making beer; but the doubt took hold again.  What if it doesn't work?  What if it doesn't seal properly.  What if the jar breaks in the canner?  What if I just can't do this?  I put the stock pot back downstairs and put pickles on the shopping list.

A few weeks ago, Chuck decided that it would be a fun project for the family to do.  We could all pitch in to help the process and we'd have all these great things stored for the winter.  So we took a few more steps towards preserving and got some jars.  And sat and looked at each other for a week.

Friday, Chuck bought two enormous baskets of the most beautiful strawberries.  I have this thing about throwing out food - the waste just makes me twitch so we had to do something.  We were committed now.  We were making jam.

Ian hulling the berries

Boiling the fruit
Jars in the water to boil

Taking out the first jar of jam!

Eight jars of jam.  

I think it's the food safety alarmists who started the Your-Grandmas-Jam-Recipe-Is-Unsafe-Don't-Make-It that gave me pause.  Every book, website and video I've seen on the subject talks about how our understanding of the process has improved and how unsafe the older recipes are etc. so throw them all out and follow the new safer modern recipes instead.  I'm sure it wasn't their intention to put newbies like me off making preserves at all, and I admit I approached this with a great deal of apprehension (what if I did it wrong and we all died of salmonella?) and and and and

And you know what?  If you can boil water, you can make jam.  It was dead easy.  If somebody had told me that it was easier than making beer (which it is), I'd have started years ago. 

Friday, 22 June 2012

Ginger Alhambra

Its done!  Actually, it's been done for a while but a week with no internet at home has left me a little behind the ball in sharing what's going on.

Here is the Ginger Alhambra:

I'm really pleased with this and am quite sure the recipient will enjoy it as well.  This is the second time I've knit this pattern and like many things, it gets easier with time.  This version worked up much faster and with fewer errors than the first time I made it.  I don't remember the finished dimensions, but I was left with only a fourteen inch tail when I finished casting off.  I also used blocking wires for the first goodness - what a revelation!  

I'm starting to harvest from the garden now.  I've had salad greens for about two weeks, radishes, peas, herbs and a few days ago I pulled some of the tastiest turnips that I've had all year.   We boiled them up, mashed them with some carrots and a dab of butter and served it alongside sausage.  Not what I'd consider a traditional summer meal, but it sure tasted good.  

So now I'm thinking about how exactly I'm going to store the turnips.  I have more than I can eat immediately and I want the space in the garden for another crop.  And since they're the perfect size, I want them to come out now.  I had a quick look online and confirmed that I can store them much like potatoes.  So I have a box that I'll fill with some slightly damp peat moss in the cold room, I'll pull them, cut all but an inch or two of the tops off, and layer them in the peat moss.  I think the trick here is going to be managing the moisture level in the peat moss.  Too much and everything will rot, too little and the turnip will shrivel.

The potatoes, and tomatoes are flowering, the cucumbers have flower buds on them, the peppers and beans have buds, the onions look fantastic, the broccoli looks like broccoli and with the recent heat I can just about watch the corn, pumpkin and zucchini grow.  

My food bill is about to drop.  Which frees up more money for yarn.  It's a good thing.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Tech is great when it works....

So a week, maybe 10 days ago there was a big thunderstorm went rolling through my neighbourhood.  Since I have a line-of-sight Internet tower (which is essentially a big lightening rod), and a steel roof, Ian was sent upstairs to unplug the internet cables to prevent any possible electrical surges from destroying anything.

The computer wasn't destroyed, nor was the UPS.  Not even the printer.  But the transmitter on my wireless router was damaged.  We're still not entirely sure how it happened as it should have been unplugged but after that storm, it was no longer transmitting. 

So we had to get a new router.  No big deal right?  You go to any one of a handful of shops and get a new one.  No problem.  I left this in Chuck's very capable hands and true to form, he got a new router.  An all singing, all dancing, all the bells and whistles, router.  This one broadcasts on two wavelengths - one for regular surfing and one for video streaming or for tasks which require greater bandwidth.  It's a DLink and the past several routers I've had have been made by LinkSys.

And herein lies the problem.

I know how the LinkSys router works.  I can configure it quickly and easily as I know where to click and where different information is entered in the administration of the router.  I'm reasonably adept at setting this kind of thing up, and I'm sure DLink is going to be a wonderful piece of equipment, but damned if I could make it work.  After a screaming fit at an inanimate object (not one of my finer moments), Chuck very kindly stepped in, took over, and had it up and running in an evening.  By that time I had gone to bed, exhausted and spent after raging at a piece of plastic.

In the meantime, I'm writing from work, paying the bills through my phone and using that energy of rage and frustration against the Colorado potato beetles in my garden.  They had no idea what hit them - just a wave of fury destroying beetles, and eggs in the potato plants. 

Chuck tells me it's all up and running again now.  I don't know whether to be thrilled or irked.  It's symptomatic of my love/hate relationship with tech.  It's the most amazing thing in the world - when it works.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Rumour Mill

For many years, my house was known as Fellinger's Mill.  It was originally built as a supply depot, it's been a restaurant, a B&B, and at one time, children's clothes were produced here.  It's enough of a landmark that the development that is going in around me is also called Fellinger's Mill.  When I'm speaking to people who have lived in the area for a long time, especially tradesmen, it's often easier to give my address as "Fellinger's Mill" rather than the actual street address.

Last weekend, Chuck went to an antiques auction not too far from here and got to talking to one of the fellows in the crowd.  I wasn't there, so I don't know how this particular conversation came up, but they got to talking about our house.  As soon as the other guy heard "Fellinger's Mill" he had to know the truth.  See, according to the local rumour mill, we're opening another restaurant.

Really? Not only am I notoriously cavalier about food safety, but I can hardly get my own meal on the table before eight most nights, let alone cook for the discerning public.

But what I'd really like to know is this:  How did this particular rumour get started?  I'm a software engineer, not a cook.  I've never had the slightest inclination to have a restaurant, a B&B or work in the hospitality industry.  I've never waited tables in my life.  And other than run a gas line into the kitchen for a gas range (normal size - five elements with an electric oven) I have done nothing to upgrade the kitchen.

Curiously enough, Chuck has previously mentioned that he'd like to start what can only be called a "neighbourhood watering hole" in the shed on the property.  He's actually mentioned this to me more than once.  I know we'd never get zoning permission to do it, but now he's even got a name for it.  

The Rumour Mill

Wednesday, 6 June 2012


It's a strange thing how life moves in waves.  I've spent the past several weeks so busy I didn't know if I was coming or going.  Planting the garden took up much more of my time than I had anticipated.  I reckon I must have spent six weeks digging and planting.

But now it's all done.  These are some of the more recent photos.



Onions with clover
And I don't really know what to do with myself.  I visit the garden once, sometimes twice a day to make sure things are growing and that nothing is being eaten (this is actually my greater concern) and will turn the sprinkler on if I need to, but that is really the extent of my involvement until harvest.  I'm not even really weeding it.  Most of the "weeds" that are growing are clover and grass and I figure I can turn most of that under as green manure in the fall.

The list of home renovation projects I planned for this year is done.  This is the new deck we put on (no, I didn't do that - I paid a super contractor for the fine work), as well as resided this part of the house.

Which leaves me with knitting and spinning.  I've been sadly neglecting my spinning in favour of working with cashmere and silk but the wheel is in my dining room and is starting to give me dirty looks every time I go by.  

The Baby Surprise Jacket is done.  I have to agree, it is truly a marvel of engineering but it has also reinforced my belief that Garter Stitch comes from one of the inner circles of hell and is what knitters who end up in purgatory get to work with.  I know - you all have a favourite pattern worked in garter stitch and I'm sure it's lovely.  But  I found this to be endless and apart from a few rows where I had to pay attention, it was painfully dull.

The Ginger Alhambra is moving along.  There are 17 repeats completed.  I'm aiming to do about 23 and then it'll be done.  And believe it or not, the Indigo Montoya socks that have lived in my purse for what seems like forever, are almost done!  Which is good because I feel a need to knit mittens coming on.  I think they're the perfect summer knitting, small enough for instant gratification and they aren't piles of wool in your lap when it's 30C.  And - they'll actually be done when you need to wear them.  

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Generational Eclipse

I reckon that for most of humanity's existence, regardless of time or geographic location, children have played similar types of games.  I bet hide and seek hasn't changed too much in the gazillion years that kids have played it.  Nor has tag, skipping (even some of the songs are still around) or Red Rover - or whatever it was called where you come from.

But yesterday, I overheard my eleven year old son, Ian, talking to a group of friends on Skype about a new server location for an online game.  One kid was passing out an IP address and inviting all the others to join him on this new server for a group adventure.

Really?  Skyping to get a new server for an online game.  Did I mention he's eleven?!

Now I'm not a
Luddite.  I work in IT as a software engineer and my husband's work is computer based so we use computers all the time.  In fact, we have so many of them at home - both desktops and laptops - that each of us has a selection of which one we're going to use (this isn't consumerism gone wild, its an inability to throw out something that still works).  So I guess it shouldn't come as any surprise that my kid is comfortable with computers.  

What does surprise me is that beyond showing him which was the Skype icon on the desktop, I never taught him how to do any of this.  I didn't teach him how to add contacts to his account, nor have I ever taught him what a server is or how to connect to one - not to mention what credentials are.  I've never told him about distributed architecture, cloud computing or whatever is coming next.  
He just seems to understand it.  I'm amazed that I can stop reading my e-book (e-book - wow, what will they think of next) at one place, and open the book on my phone the next day (remember when a phone was mounted to the wall and all it did was make a telephone call?) and the bookmark has updated and is in the same place.  I think this is amazing.  Just one small step removed from magic - but my son shrugs and says "Well, why wouldn't it update?"  Contrast this with my mother, who struggles with the idea of moving email messages from one folder to another.

I know that each generation is destined to eclipse the abilities of the one which came before, but honestly, I'm not ready to be eclipsed just yet.