Friday, July 15, 2011

Some Photos in No Sensible Order

If I took the time to put these photos into order, I'd be here forever.

Pardon the mess.

It's this or a blank page:
 Beautiful clouds and beautiful weather.  Time to get the mower out...again.
The corn is growing so beautifully this year. The season started off late, but whoa, is it ever growing now. Enough hot temps and enough rain makes for a great corn year.
This is the roof for the south side of our barn.  The north side was done about 4 years ago.  If you're perceptive, you'll notice it's not ON the roof.  We must remedy this.  Soon.

Dear Lord.  We need help - stat.  This is the south side of the barn, and the reason the roof is stored in the barn, and not on the barn.  We need to rip this addition down before it comes down on it's own.  Getting help to do this project rates high on the frustration scale.  I can already see Eric and me doing this work ourselves.  Where's my hard-hat again? Pass me the crowbar...I'm going in. We need to tear this section down before the roof can be redone.  Hence, we're in a holding pattern.  A desperate holding pattern.
Lots of reclaimed BC fir beams we have stored in the barn.  These are on a standard, sagging skid.  They are HUGE.  We have to rotate them from time to time to make sure they don't rot before we can use them.
More BC fir beams in the barn.  These babies are about 8" x 16".  We bought a truckload when an old factory was destroyed nearby.  Old wood is good wood.  These are over 100 years old.  They are being stored because we've got plans for them.  Ignore the mast in the photo, please.  It's another project I really don't want to think about, either.
Bloody @#$%*(& horseradish.  This bleeping plant can die.  I have it all over the place.  It's taking over, and I thought I had it under control.  Grows like a flipping weed, it does.
 Burdock about to bloom.  Again, time for napalm.
Where's my machete?  This plant is already six feet tall.  It's like guerrilla gardening over here.  Halp!
Bonus points if you can figure out what these are!

They are burdock, lots and lots of baby burdock plants.  It's also why I am standing on a sheet of plywood.  I flipped this over onto the burdock, and in 2 weeks' time, no more baby burdock.  Muahahahahahaha!  I'm winning this war!
Phew.  The day lilies are blooming.  My sanity might just be restored.
Someone found my blog by googling "something is eating my elecampane".  Well if you figure out what's eating your elecampane, can you send some my way so mine can get eaten too, please?
Showing a Manitoba Maple stump some tough love.  Just keep breaking those suckers off, and eventually the stump will cry "uncle".  It might take a year or three.  Just sayin'.  The suckers are so soft, no clippers are needed.  Just snap 'em off with your fingers.
That's better.  The Manitoba maple stump suffers under my hand.  All the suckers are broken off.  I'll be back in a week to do it all over again.  Tenacity wins.
Looks like we'll have a bumper crop of grapes this year.  The vines are full and they look good.  Nice and hot summer so far, we should be good to go by fall if the raccoons don't get to them first.
I've got plans for this seeder, just as soon as it's pulled out of the muck it's mired in.
How many years do you think it's been in here?  I'm putting money down on 30 years.  I want to haul this baby out of here, have the wheels rebuilt, and use it as a planter.  It would look great with annuals planted in it, standing in front of the barn.
Same thing goes for this sled.  I hope to rebuild it one long winter, and put it on display in the garden near the house.  I plan on using it to put seasonal decorations on.  In winter, I'll put a Christmas tree and one of those tacky lit-up deer on it.  In spring, I'll put potted bulbs on it, then in summer I'll switch over to bright, potted annuals, and in fall, I'll decorate with hay bales and a scarecrow and pumpkins and squash.  I think you get the inner Martha is shining through...I should whip her into submission before she gets me into more trouble as it is.
We need to pick a colour for Eric's office.  I know just what colour he wants - a colour that we can't find of course.  I know exactly what hybrid Eric wants, and what saturation he wants.  This colour doesn't exist.  We'll have it made - we've done it before, and we'll do it again.  I'm praying the result is what Eric envisions.
Schatzie says, "I'd go with this shade already and just get the damn room painted".  That cat is the voice of reason, I tell you!
Baby seabuckthorn.  They'll be orange by September.  Promise.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Þel

Did I confuse you there, by throwing around that bit of Icelandic?  That's not a typo, but Þ is the thirtieth letter of the Icelandic alphabet, the Þorn, or thorn, as it is pronounced.  According to wiki, it's pronounced like the th in thick.  That would make the word "thel".  I'm still no closer to knowing what it means!

Last year, I ordered an offensive amount of Létt Lopi in the hopes of redeeming myself for what I will covertly call the "Schmapigan" disaster.  I am sure I'm not the only person to fall deeply in love with a pattern on-line, order the requisite wool, knit about a mile worth of it, and come up feeling like I've been beaten with the mediocre stick.

Just ordering the pattern alone proved painful.  Not only was it expensive, I was charged as much for the shipping as I was for the pattern.  In this day and age of PDF files, PayPal accounts and laptops, ordering knitting patterns on-line is normally child's play. You pay, you download, you print.  It was a sign that I should have quit while I was ahead.

Pattern finally in hand, I ordered the wool.  Joseph Galler's Peruvian Tweed, quite honestly one of the most beautiful wools I have ever knit with.  I am in love with my Lopi, but JG's Peruvian Tweed is like eating a steak after a year's worth of hamburger.  It's wool, specifically alpaca, but it's different.  And oh my, does it knit up beautifully!  One day, I hope to come across more of it and make myself something I might actually wear.  Each skein weighs a whopping 227g, that's a half a pound, and measures 600 yards.  That's a whole lotta wool in one skein.
So I set about knitting the Schmapigan, and again, Pit Bull here doesn't trust her knitting intuition when things feel wrong.  Since I paid all this money for the pattern, and all this money for the wool, I certainly wasn't going to quit now.  The edges of the Schmapigan feature yards and yards of fringe, and I must have blown an entire skein on this alone.  Now, for you non-knitterly types, wool is not lost even if it's knit up.  Knitters refer to the act of pulling down knitting as "frogging", a play on words from the expression rip it, rip it.  Hence, anything can be frogged, but miles and miles of cut fringe remain...cut fringe.  The finished Schmapigan lived on top of the dryer in the laundry room for a while, and when Popina decided to make a nest out of it, I knew its days were numbered.  I frogged the entire Schmapigan, removed all the beautiful fringe which now resides in a Ziploc bag, and wound up the rest.  I suppose the only thing I will recycle all this beautiful yarn into is a shawl with mile and miles of fringe.  I still don't have the heart to look at it, because I had really high hopes for the Schmapigan.

That's the background on how the Þel came to be.  Here was a pattern in one of my Lopi books that just might redeem me.  I ordered 2 bags of brown Lopi, and got busy knitting.  1600 metres later, the Þel was born.  I have to mention my dear friend Elaine in there as well.  'Twas Elaine who got busy sewing the sleeves in, in return for me sewing in 2,716 ends on a precious baby cardigan Elaine had knit, as well as sewing on grosgrain ribbon for the button band, and finishing the buttons.  (I like that fiddly stuff - especially if I didn't knit it myself).  Knitters are charitable like that. At some point, you just get so involved with a particular project that you just can't deal with it any more.  That's when good friends step in and say, "here, let me knit that back for you", when you've made a mistake and don't have the heart to pull back a few rows of lace, for example.  Sometimes, emotional detachment is required to successfully finish a particular project.  In the end, I handed Elaine both sleeves and the body, and Elaine did the rest.  There was a lot riding on the success of the Þel.  Again, I folded it, put it on top of the dryer in the laundry room and forgot about it.  Popina was happy though, to have a nice, cushy warm place to nap.  Lopi's forgiving like that, though.  This stuff repels everything - dirt, pet hair, you name it.  It's virtually indestructible.

The other day, I thought it would be best to take the Þel to task, and finally wash and block it.  I soaked in Eucalan for a bit, squeezed it out until I was satisfied it was clean, rolled the whole thing up and chucked it in the washer for a quick spin-dry.  The wool is so magical is came out of the washer practically dry.  I slapped it down on the slate patio, straightened it out, and with the warmth of the sun and the slate, it was dry in about an hour.  You'd never attempt something like that with normal wool.  But Lopi's not normal - it's super-wool.  Of course Popina attacked it as it was drying, and it goes without saying Cooper had a nap on it, too.

But it's all good, because in the end, the Þel is everything I hoped it would be, and more:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The "Saga" Saga

Ahhh yes, the saga of the "Saga".  Lopi sure named this sweater design appropriately.  And what's a girl to do when it's 90 degrees in the shade?
Why, break an unfinished sweater out of hibernation, that's what!  Winter is on it's way, especially if you are as negligent on the knitting front as I have been lately.

The other day, I pulled this baby out of its dedicated Rubbermaid bin and had a quick look-see.  It's been a few months since I worked on it, and I have no clue what happened that I put it aside and seemingly forgot about it.  (Well...actually what happened is I started a boring black mohair shawl that kept getting more boring with every added row.  I was hoping to complete said shawl before a vacation last November that never materialized.  Dejected both by the aborted vacation and the boring-ness of the shawl, I fell behind in my knitting.  I can't take its blandness any more, but I am still plugging away.  It's nearly done, but inspiring it's not.  And then I attacked my sock knitting machines early this year, and the rest, as they say, is history).

The colours of the Saga are magnificent, the wool so lofty, the knitted fabric light yet incredibly warm.  I am as much in love with Lopi as I was during The Great Slipper Explosion that marked the spring of 2010.

It's been prohibitively hot here for the past few days, as evidenced by the thermometer.  We don't have any air-conditioning in the house and the thought of sitting with pure wool touching any part of my body, save for my hands, makes me break out into a sweat.  (Really, you don't say? is what you're probably thinking).

Nonetheless, I plunked myself at the kitchen island, put the fan on full-bore mode beside me, and started to bash away at the Saga.  It's amazing just how quickly it grew.  As far as knitting goes, it's also quite addictive working  with a colour chart.  You want to keep going just to get to the next colour. There's a lot of motivation involved, and charting your progress is visually measurable as your Post-it note inches its way up.

I had already finished knitting the body up to the yoke.  One sleeve was already started, and within one day, I had it finished.  Létt-Lopi knits up quickly on 5 mm needles.  For every 2 rows, that means you've got about 1 cm of knitting done, for every 5 rows, you've got an inch.  It grew quickly.
I am now finished the second sleeve, and this means I have to put my thinking cap on to do the yoke.  Basically, you start knitting on the middle front, then knit most of the stitches from the sleeve, (keeping some live stitches from both the body and sleeves on waste yarn that will later be grafted together under the arm), then you knit the back, the next sleeve, and when the yoke is finished, you steek the front.

Steeking involves taking your sharpest pair of scissors and cutting a perfectly good sweater down the front, to sew in a zipper or knit or crochet on a button band.  If knitting had an extreme sport division, steeking would be in it. The thought alone sends my stomach into fits, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.  I still have a way to go before I attempt that operation.
So I will continue to bash away at my colourful little sweater, and have given myself July 21st as a completion date.  That's the next time our informal little knitting group meets, and I'd really like to have it done for show-and-tell.  Last time I showed up with the black mohair shawl and when everyone asked me if it was finished, I let out a big sigh.  Knitting black is boring, painfully so.  If you're a knitter, you'll probably understand.  The rest of you will just have to trust me.  On the other hand, colours are really stimulating.  I dream all sorts of colourful dreams full of creative endeavours when I knit on my Saga before going to bed. 

It's no wonder I wake up exhausted.

Now that I've made myself accountable, I had better break out the needles and get this baby done, once and for all, hopefully before July 21st, or before the snow starts to fly.

Which ever comes first.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Schatzie's Most Excellent Adventure

I don't mention our cat Schatzie as often as I do the Bobberizer, The Poppet with the Moppet, and Coopersteen the Foreman, but Schatzie is a common denominator, always underfoot and always pestering me for something during the 30 minutes a day she's awake.

Schatzie and her son, Baby Gray, came to us when our beloved neighbour, Mr. Lefebure, passed away.  That it's been six years is hard to believe.  At that time, we were told by Mr. Lefebure's brother that Schatzie was already 20 years old.  That would put her at 26 today.

We dubbed the two gray cats Mama Gray and Baby Gray when we moved their little carpets from the wood shed on Mr. Lefebure's property to the barn closest to our house.  They quickly caught on that this was their new place, and we never saw them return next door again.  I guess home is where the food is, if you're a cat.

Both cats spent the better part of their first two years with us living outside.  Baby only became approachable towards the end of his life.  If Baby Gray had a power supply, it would have been hooked up to 220.  This cat was wired, tense and nervous.  His eyes were like a deer's caught in the headlights - always open and watching.  Towards the end of his life, Baby became a bit more flexible, and even spent a few nights inside the house during cold snaps.  He disappeared on Christmas Eve 2 years ago, and I'd like to think he fell asleep and never woke up again.  That's my Christmas wish, and I'm sticking to it.

When Mama Gray moved in, we renamed her Schatzie.  "Chat" is cat in French, and "Schatz" means dear in German, so I hybridized both words as I am wont to do, and the name stuck.  Occasionally, we call her Schitzie, another play on words based on her litter box habits, or lack thereof.   Her aim is sometimes a bit off, much to my dismay.

Schatzie spends exactly 23.5 hours a day asleep.  When she's not sleeping on Cooper's dog-bed in the kitchen, she's awake and meowing for her food.  She's stone-deaf, ergo, she doesn't hear herself meow, and this results in the most ear-drum shattering meow a cat can muster.  She's loud and she's determined.  The minute I walk in the kitchen and she catches sight of me, it's one long-drawn out, meow-fest that comes out with gargling undertones.  If Schatzie has a mission statement, it would be Feed Me.  Even my mother jokingly gave me a cat dish for her, and that's what's written on the bowl.  Not only do I have to feed her, but she takes 2 bites, looks at me again, and starts to gargle/meow some more.  I grab a spoon, shovel her food into a little pile in the center of her bowl, and this food rearrangement process repeats itself ad nauseum until Schatzie finally has enough, or until Popina (the little oinker) edges her out of the way if I'm not watching carefully.  If I'm sitting on the sofa when Madame finishes her meal, she promptly sits beside me and cleans her muzzle on my elbow.  Thanks, Schatzie, you're a doll!

From time to time, the Old Hag likes to go outside and eat grass, which she then pukes up in the house on some carpeted surface when my back is turned.  When she goes out, she never strays far from the front door, and the other day, she greeted me on the walkway as I walked in with full arms.  I went back to my car, brought more stuff to the house, and returned to lock it.  Now, I should note, the interior of my car is dark gray.  You can see where this story is going, can't you?  I looked high and low for her, in the garage and barn, under the cars, around the house, and under the hosta she used to sleep under.  I sent Cooper out and told him to "go find Schatzie".  I don't need to tell you he came up empty, too.

Eric and I went out that evening for a quick bite to eat.  As we pulled in the driveway, I looked hopefully for  Schatzie's little face, but she was no where to be seen.   Fear struck my heart, and I knew I'd have to kick-up the search and rescue effort to high gear.  Then I looked over to Eric, who's pointing at my car with a knowing grin.  I looked inside, and there's little Schatzie, all 3 and-a-half pounds of the boney hag, sitting on the back seat, on the dry-cleaning no less.  I fumbled for my keys, and when the beast was released, she let out a croaky little meow and jumped down in her little stumbling arthritic manner.  If Schatzie had only 2 of her 9 lives left, I blew one that day for sure.  I could have blown both if it would have been hotter.  As it was, it was a cool, overcast day, pretty much typical of our entire month of June.  I made a promise that day that I would never leave my car open, and if I did, I'd check back and front seats before locking it up.  I never would have imagined that Schatzie, of all cats, was an adventurer.

I joke about high-maintenance Schatzie, her litter box accidents, the fact she needs a special diet, her deafness, and the fact that her grooming habits are nil.  I have to brush her regularly to keep her de-matted, and the little bitch thanks me by digging her claws into my hand on occasion.

All that said and done, I love the old girl and hope she makes it another 26 years.

Friday, July 1, 2011

In a Pickled Mess

I have no clue how I get myself into these messes.
I have many routes to choose from when I drive to work.  Last week I took one particular scenic route which takes me past a cucumber farm.  The other day, I noticed the owner outside, so I slammed on my brakes, pulled into the driveway, and asked for my standard - a 2 lb bag of "seconds".   I got a wink, a smile and the owner said in his thick accent, "For you, today, I make special!  Open your trunk, I give you a case!"

I traded cash for cukes and ended up with a 20 pound box of "seconds".

Behold, my lovelies, the venerable Lebanese cucumber:

I was introduced to these about 20 years ago.  At the time, I was driving by this same farm with a friend who had recently moved from Beirut to Montreal.  As we drove by the farm, he noticed the name on the mail box, and said "STOP!", so it's not the first time I've slammed on my brakes at the cucumber place.  (And for those of you concerned about my lack of driving skills, there's actually a stop sign in front of the farm.  Just sayin'.)

My Lebanese friend is an agronomist, and launched into a long conversation in Lebanese with the cucumber farmer.  Much arm-waving and shoulder-slapping ensued, and we were toured around the green houses. We left with sun-warmed cukes straight off the vine from their pesticide-free greenhouses.

Unless you've gardened, you have no clue just how remarkable a fresh, sun-ripened cuke tastes.  Add a sprinkle of salt, and you're transported to a new foodie dimension on a different stellar plane.  My Lebanese agronomist friend explained these weren't ordinary cucumbers - they were Lebanese cucumbers - sweet, nearly seedless, with a tender peel you wouldn't even consider peeling.  People who say cukes are hard to digest have never had a Lebanese cucumber.  I eyed my first cucumber with a note of suspicion and a raised eyebrow.  I know cucumbers.  But we raised our cucumbers to the sky, toasted them with a quick "sahtain" in Lebanese, and I took my first bite.  Ohhh, there was no turning back now.  I was forever ruined against the watery, anemic English cucumber, the now-dethroned Queen of the cucumber world.  I quickly understood what my friend was trying to explain to me.  These are the new gold standard.

That little reminiscence aside, I am now the proud owner of a 20 pound crate of cucumbers.  And this is something I need to remedy -  stat.  As retaliation for the infamous Seville Orange incident that marked February as my longest month this year, I tried to pawn half the crate off on my co-worker.  She took a few home, blaming the fact they were leaving on a long-weekend preventing her from taking more.   Hmmmph.  Remind me not to try this manoeuvre before a holiday, will you?

You know the saying, when the going gets tough, the tough get going?  Well, along the same lines, when you have a 20 pound crate of cucumbers, it stands to reason you make bread and butter pickles:
Golden Bread and Butter pickles are the best!  I made six 500 mL canning jars with 4 pounds of you do the math.  It turns out I'm going to be emptying Canadian Tire's canning jar selection again this week.

I had recently purchased a Benriner mandoline. I am a horrible consumer (save for my Finnegan Years), which is why it took me nearly 5 years to spend a gift certificate at one of the largest kitchen-ware stores in Montreal.   Every time I walked in with the intention of buying something, I left the store dejected.  And every time I left the store, I was guaranteed that their gift certificates don't expire.  This just added to my procrastination.  Had I known there was an expiry date, it would have lit a fire under my ass.  I probably would have ended up with 10 pairs of oven-mitts if push came to shove.  Instead, I caved for a Benriner mandoline, since my last Rosti mandoline had been epoxied to outer-space and beyond.  It was time to retire the Rosti for something new.

(As it is, I don't really need anything for the kitchen - expect for the KitchenAid ice-cream churn that is still on my wish-list.  If Santa was a good boy, I'd own it already, but he's not.  I'll leave things at that, Santa.)

And if it's possible for a store to have too much selection, Ares Kitchen Supplies is guilty as charged.  The place is mind-numbing.  It should be a tourist destination, a Walt Disney for cooks and bakers alike.  Walking down the aisles is like riding Space Mountain, you need to hang on or lose control.  Screaming is not encouraged, but more than once I've heard someone shout, "I'VE FOUND IT"!  Ares is one of those places.

That Benriner mandoline did fast work of those cukes!  I'll apologize in advance to the poor recipient of the jar that contains the fingernail from my right index finger.  Sorry, I really did try to find it...  Next time, I might use the finger-guard and re-read the wonderful Japanese pictogram manual so I don't lose a digit.

Let's not waste any more time.  Here is the recipe:

Golden Bread and Butter Pickles

12 cups thinly sliced, unpeeled cucumbers (from about 4 pounds of pickles)
2 cups thinly sliced white onion
1 cup thinly sliced yellow pepper
1 cup thinly sliced red pepper
1/4 cup pickling salt

Combine above ingredients in a large bowl, and cover with 3" of ice cubes.  Let stand for 4 hours, rinse and drain, and rinse and drain again. 

In a large saucepan, combine the following ingredients:

3 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups granulated sugar
4 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp celery seeds
1 tsp turmeric

Bring to a boil, and add drained cucumber mixture.  Return just to a boil, stirring often.

Fill into prepared 500 mL canning jars, leaving a 1 cm (1/2") head-space.

Process 10 minutes in boiling water canner.

Yield:  Approximately 6 - 500 mL jars.

My Notes:

I used about 4 pounds of pickles to make 12 cups sliced.

I didn't have yellow peppers and didn't want to leave the house, so I doubled up on red.  The mix of yellow and red makes it even prettier.  No one will notice, I promise, if you only have one or the other.  Blue ribbon bonus points awarded if you have both, though.

Along the same lines, I only had yellow onions, so in they went.  I'm a rebel like that.  No harm done.

Because my time management skillz come from a Cracker Jack box, I stuck the cukes in the fridge over night.  I rinsed doubly hard and said an extra prayer to the Canning Gods begging forgiveness.

I think they heard it.
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