Thursday, October 13, 2011


It's that time of year again, where thoughts turn to heat.  This is Canada, after all, where -20C isn't a curiosity but a reality.  Although we're reveling in beautiful weather these days, the advent of colder days is inevitable.
Eric just started a three-week vacation, and one of his main goals during that time is to cut and split a trailer's worth of logs, some of them over 20' in length.  The going rate for a cord of split hardwood in our area is anywhere from $75 to $95 delivered.  We're paying about half of that, and Eric gets his exercise as an added bonus.  We heat primarily with wood, and we can easily go through 4 cords of wood per season, which lasts from about October to May.

Our wood stove is an EPA2 certified slow combustion stove.  Our model is the Esprit, made in Austria by Austroflamm for Rika.  Curiously, we bought this at a local wood stove dealer.  It was the only one they had in stock, and so different from the more traditional Vermont Castings-style wood stoves common on the market-place, that we were immediately sold on it.  It has a much more modern look, and is SOLID.  Seriously, this is one well-made wood stove.  We call him Wilfred.  I'm in love with Wilfie.  Wilfie is my BFF.
We built the wall behind Wilfie out of copper, when copper prices were still reasonable.  I'm sure if we were to price up a similar project today, we'd be in Yea Olde Poore Hause.  Our home insurance required we built a fire-proof wall with an air barrier behind it because of space constraints.  Copper was the one product we found that was not only esthetic, but easy to install and light.  Eric designed rails that are mounted vertically onto the bare wall, onto which he hung specially designed clips that holds each interlocking panel into place.  Everything was cut and bent at a local coppersmiths, all we needed to do was supply our idea, some cursory drawings, and give exact dimensions.  Eric and I installed everything in a quick afternoon.  Child's play.  And our insurance agent was over the moon.  Nothing dissipates heat like copper.

At some point in time, we're going to have to break down and polish the copper wall.  I kind of like the patina it's developed over the years, but the fingerprints from people going, "ooooohhhh, is that copper?" as they smudge their greasy digits on the metal drove Eric nuts for many years.  I kind of find it funny - it's like people mark their territory without meaning to.  And it's a house, after all, things are going to get pinged, dented, smudged, scratched and tarnished.  Or maybe Eric has an unhealthy obsession with the copper wall - I don't know -  but I do know he ordered special polishing pads for our new Fein Multitool specifically to clean it.  I plan on popping a batch of popcorn and sitting back and watching as Eric polishes the copper wall.  I will revel in every last second of watching Eric clean.  That was part of the deal when we installed it - ain't no way I was going to add "polishing of copper wall" to the already long list of menial home chores.

We don't count on our wood stove to heat the entire house, though.  When we rebuilt the upstairs, we decided we wouldn't skimp on heating.  We had had enough of paint cans freezing because it was so cold upstairs.  Eric slept with a tuque on for the first few years (no, I'm not kidding!), and used a feather mattress TOPPER as a duvet.  I'm a bit happier, because I enjoy sleeping in a freezing room, but still, there's the problem of my pillow freezing to the outside walls when it gets to -20C.  There's got to be a happy medium.

Years ago, at a home show, we fell in love with Calorigen's Flex radiant heaters when we were looking at solutions for upstairs heating.  Radiant heat is different from the heat of regular electric baseboards that most people have in Quebec.  Radiant heat warms the objects in a room, and not the air, so it's not nearly as drying as regular baseboards.  While doing the renovations upstairs, we wired everything in to accommodate Calorigen's heaters, and when we were ready to make the purchase, we came up empty.  Calorigen was nowhere to be found.  We called around - I mean - the company was there one month - and next month - poof! they were gone.  Eric dug a bit deeper, and found a distributor that was liquidating Calorigen's stock.  Cash 'n carry - at a substantial rebate.  They even threw in extra temperature control probes for good measure, so we're good for the next 40 years, give or take.  Calorigen is still in production, but they moved their manufacturing facility, hence the fire sale.  Sometimes, taking time to make a purchase pays off.

Since I'm the chief cleaning-woman in our house, I appreciate the fact I don't need to dust the tops of the baseboards upstairs.  They always collect so much dog and cat hair, which is not the case with the Calorigens.  Regular baseboards also make this somewhat annoying tick-tick-tick sound as they heat-up.  It's not prohibitive, but it is a bit annoying.  The Calorigens don't do that - they're totally quiet. The are also slim and unobtrusive, unlike standard baseboards.  They're also not the same price, in case you're wondering.  They're way, way, way more expensive.

One day, we'll get around to making the window frames.  Eric's in charge of that.  For now, you'll have to be satisfied with the vapour barrier and a Glad garbage bag curtain that is happily out of sight in the photo.  Our house probably looks like a grow-op from the outside with curtains as natty as that.

In case you need reminding, this is the blight we had in this room before:
Oh how precious!  This was taken after I took the baseboard heater off the wall and marveled at the dust, dirt, sawdust and general lack of craftsmanship that ruled upstairs.  I never did figure out what those brown streaks on the heater were; it must have been baked-on Varathane.  I sure hope so, because no amount of scouring made them disappear.  I should have tried acetone in retrospect.  When I finally cut the wire to that baseboard, I didn't even bring it downstairs.  I threw it right out the window, into a snow bank.  It landed with a satisfying thud.  Hasta la vista, baby!

So, with our renovations completed upstairs (give or take a bit of trim), R44 insulation tucked into every nook and cranny, Wilfie going full-bore downstairs, you think we need nice radiant heaters upstairs?  We barely need to turn them on.  I guess we did a better job insulating than we anticipated.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Meeting Street Mittens

I'm having the best time sick with this infernal cold.  I've decided to make lemonade out of the lemons I've been handed, and get caught up with a variety of tasks I've procrastinated about for several months now.  If I were still on the mend, I'd probably spend next week writing Christmas cards, I'm that up-to-date.

I hemmed a pair of pants I bought in July.  The sewing machine's been set up on the dining room table since August.  Excuses were running out.  That thorn out of my side, I grabbed my shameful UFO knitting basket.

These mittens were inside, missing only the thumbs:
The Meeting Street Mittens, or MSM's as they've been dubbed in knitting-ese.  As the observant among you can tell, they're no longer missing requisite thumbs!  With my stuffy head, believe it or not, it took me the better part of a day to finish knitting up the thumbs, and weaving in all those pesky ends.  I might be slow with this cold, but I am steady.

It's not obvious, but the Berroco sock wool these mittens are knit with have a small Lurex thread in them.  They add just a touch of glamour, and element sorely lacking in my life.  If I ever write an autobiography, I'm calling it "Rubber Boots are My Life".  I need all the glitter I can lay my hands on.
I love pretty much everything about these mittens.  The colours are stunning, and the fact they're stranded will make them extra-warm during winter, plus I made them long enough to cover my boney little wrists.  As an added bonus, I've even got plenty of wool left to make another pair!

Also in the UFO basket is that infernal black kid-silk shawl (appropriately given the acronym BMF - B stands for Black, and the rest is up to your sordid imagination) that does not seem to want to go away.

I spent last weekend at a resort, courtesy of my company, and thought this would be the ideal opportunity to complete said shawl.  I packed it in my over-night bag, and started knitting while waiting for my co-workers to arrive.   The resort we were at features a HUGE, MASSIVE six-sided fire place in a dark, rustic environment, so I plunked myself down beside the best light I could find and started bashing away on the BMF.

To prove my point, here's a picture I took years ago, during the Christmas holidays.  This being Canada, it's not decorated with garlands yet, we're still reveling in fall at this point.  It's just to set the stage:

At some point, I spotted my boss at the other end of the lobby, so I picked up my knitting (or at least part of my knitting) and made my way around said HUGE, MASSIVE fireplace.  (I think every knitter's done this already, and if you knit, you can probably see where this is heading).  I managed to drop the super-light ball of precious kid-silk, and worked my way through throngs of weekend guests, trailing the delicate, fuzzy black yarn behind me.  It's like an unintentional and completely inconvenient yarn-bombing in the most inappropriate of locations.  Of course my mistake only dawned upon me as I made it clear across the lobby.

So this is how I came to find myself winding my ball frantically, weaving my way (literally), through L.L. Bean-clad tourists intent on making the best of our fall colours, eyeing me suspiciously as I followed my barely imperceptible black thread through the lobby, around furniture, and around the great stone fireplace in some sort of pantomime.

It's a good thing I am a constant source of amusement to myself, because it would have caused most knitters to wither in shame.   And to add insult to injury, it was at this moment, rewinding my skein furiously, that I started to have an inkling that I would not have enough yarn to finish the infernal BMF.

I showed it a lot of tough love that weekend, to the point that I have 4 rows left to knit, and so close to the finish line, I ran out of yarn.  That's pretty much how this entire ordeal has been - a slog-fest all the way.  One of my knitting friends is kindly donating a rest of one of her skeins so I can put this baby to bed without wasting any more money on it.

The sigh of relief I will breathe (if my cold permits) will be heard around the world.  Or at least around the fire place.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pumpkin Cheesecake

It's Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, and I can't remember having finer weather than we have right now.  Bright sun, warm 24C days, and crisp starry nights that start far too early, but it's that time of year.  The forecast calls for at least 4 or 5 more days of the same, which is a welcome change to the dreary cold and wet days we've experienced in the past week.

Through some strange twist of fate, I've been laid up with the cold to end all colds - and somehow Eric has managed to strand himself in Italy -  so I'm on my own this holiday weekend, which is kind of fitting considering all I really want to do is pull the duvet over my head anyhow.  Earlier, when I called Eric's hotel in Rome, the girl at the front desk said, "Yes, sir, I'll connect you".  My voice - I don't know what to say (literally and figuratively) - it's non-existant, and the few words that I manage to croak out have obviously skewed my gender significantly.   (And somehow...I just knew... when I bought a dozen boxes of Kleenex last week, that it was a dark omen and a harbinger of mucus to come.  Some sales are irresistible, and Kleenex on sale is my weakness).  I've obviously brought this on to myself.

But rather than have a pity party, let's reminisce about Thanksgivings gone by:

My Thanksgiving menu is virtually always the same, and has been for the past 10 years.  We start off with a golden carrot soup that features orange juice and zest, pureed with red peppers and onions courtesy of Martha Stewart.  We then move on to turkey breast, mashed potato casserole, braised brussels sprouts with maple syrup, pecans and bacon, red cabbage, bread stuffing, and the requisite cranberries and gravy.   The potatoes, brussels sprouts and stuffing are made ahead and heated in the oven while the turkey cooks.  Red cabbage nukes admirably in its serving dish.

I hate having tons of steaming pots and pans on the stove while entertaining, so anything make-ahead wins votes from me.  There's nothing worse than mashing potatoes at the last minute, while watching the gravy boil over and the stuffing spontaneously combust because you've stuck it under the broiler...because you forgot.  And then you're dealing with fire alarms and steamy glasses and a sink full of dishes, while your guests shuffle on the other side of the kitchen island, sipping their wine nervously, wondering what they did wrong to be invited to this culinary gong show. 

Not that that's ever happened to me...

I've got things down to a fine art and rarely deviate from the fixed menu anymore.   As far as I'm concerned, it's perfect in every way.

A few years ago, I gave up basting the bird for hours in favour of cooking turkey breast.  It cooks up faster, there's less mess, and you're practically guaranteed a perfect, moist meat.  I'll never go back to making a whole bird again, I think.  I've been converted.  (And what?  You've never defrosted a turkey with a heat-gun?  You've never dropped a Rubbermaid tub full of turkey brine on your kitchen floor?)  When I say I speak from experience, I speak from experience, double the bold and italics, please.  Learn from my mistakes.  It's turkey breast all the way, from here on in.

One thing I'll never deviate from - pumpkin cheesecake for dessert.   This is tried, tested and true:

Pumpkin Cheesecake

1 cup crushed gingersnap cookies
3 Tbs melted butter
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbs brown sugar

2 - 250g (8 oz) packages of cream cheese, softened
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1/4 cup flour
1-1/4 cup pure pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling!)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp mace
1/4 tsp cloves
2 Tbs rum

Preheat oven to 325F.

Grease a 9" spring-form pan.

Mix crushed gingersnaps, melted butter, cinnamon and brown sugar and press into bottom of spring-form pan.  Chill.

Beat cream cheese until fluffy.  Slowly beat in sugar.  Add eggs, one at a time.  Gradually beat in flour, spices, pumpkin and rum.

Pour onto crust.  Bake for 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 hours.

Refrigerate overnight before serving.

My notes:

Feel free to modify the spices.  The quantities are so small, they're subtle.  If you don't have mace substitute allspice.  Or leave it out all together.  It'll be our little secret.  My original recipe called for 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice - something I've never been able to find on this side of the border.  If you can find pumpkin pie spice, by all means, use it instead. 

Please don't use low-fat cream cheese.  This is not the time nor the place to skimp on calories.  Your diet can start tomorrow.  Carpe diem - or carpe cheesecake.

I've never managed to bake a cheesecake that hasn't cracked - apparently you've not supposed to over-mix, which I don't think I do, but you never know.  I've tried leaving a pan of water in the oven, and cooling the cheesecake in the oven, all to no avail.   Perfection evades me, okay?  But I'm okay with that, because your eyes will be closed anyhow, after your first bite.  They might even roll into the back of your head after tasting this cheesecake, so consider yourself forewarned.

Either way, this cheesecake is the epitome of perfection, crack or no crack.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...