Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Peanut Butter Cookies

Peanut butter cookies.  Everyone's favorite, non?  I'm a chocoholic, but these turn my crank.  They're not too sweet, just the right mix of crumbly and chewy, and the above cookie tin?  Empty in no time.  Inhaled.  Finito.  Buh-bye.  Time to bake some more.

SO JUST DOO EET!  Bake these babies.  And for goodness' sake, please don't use any of that healthy, organic, all-natural peanut butter.  Use Skippy, or  Kraft, or Jif, whatever you have on hand, provided it's full of hydrogenated junk and sugar in every processed form known to man.  Keep the good stuff for your morning toast, and use the cheap stuff to bake these goodies.

Without further ado, this recipe originates from the same tattered Robin Hood cookie booklet once doled out at Tupperware parties in the mid 70's, the same one the Ginger Sparklers hail from.  I'm sure I didn't let you down with those, and I promise these won't disappoint, either.

Peanut Butter Cookies

2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup butter
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs

Mix flour, baking soda and salt, stirring well to blend.

Cream butter, peanut butter and sugars together thoroughly.

Beat in eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Add flour mixture to creamed mixture.  Mix well.

Shape dough into 1" balls and place 2" apart on ungreased baking sheets.  Press flat with floured fork.

Bake at 375°F for 10-12 minutes.

Yield: About 6 dozen cookies.

My Notes:

I use a potato masher to flatten the cookies.  I like the look better, but it's a personal thing. I always dip my potato masher into flour before pressing each cookie so it releases easily.

In summer months, when the butter is softer, I need to chill the dough at least an hour before rolling.  If you can't shape the cookies easily, refrigerate and try again in a half an hour or so. 

Feel free to halve this recipe, and by no means double it - you'll be rolling little balls and baking until the cows come home.   And we don't want the cows to come home, ergo, no doubling.

I like to make larger cookies, and if I make 1-1/4" balls, I can get 4 dozen out of the above.

I always, always, always bake on an insulated cookie sheet.  Why anyone bothers with inferior cookie sheets is a wonder to me.  Do yourself a favour and invest in some.  Mine are made by Wearever, but they seem to be discontinued (so much for that 25-year warranty, eh?)  However, T-fal now manufactures a line marketed under the name AirBake.

Get thee some, you won't be disappointed.

And bake thee some.  You won't be disappointed, either.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Week in Review

BobCat got sprayed by a skunk.  That's right.  We've got another skunk living under the barn right beside the house, and he or she is one of the biggest I've ever seen.  Maybe we'll have more skunk babies in the summer?

Thank dog for Thiotrol.  Bob now smells like flowers.

Bob and Tessie are very much in love:
These two are a scream.  Check out the patented simultaneous rear paw action.  I sometimes find them cuddling on a chair that is far too small for their combined heft, both enraptured in one another.  It's almost embarrassing, walking in the room and finding them snuggling.  One or both look up at me, somewhat disgusted, and I back my way out of the room, peeking in from the door frame, sorry to have disturbed them.

I saw my first robin yesterday.  This may or may not be a good sign.  I hope this poor bird hasn't spent the entire winter here, as they are sometimes known to do. Either our winter was warm enough and they did, or spring is around the corner and this bird knows something we don't.  Judging by the looks of the 15cm of snow we got today, I'd say spring's not around the corner, and maybe this particular robin is of the very hardy persuasion.

I also saw a ruffed grouse.   At first, I drove by, recognized what I thought was a grouse, and put my car in reverse to have a closer look.  He stood still and craned his neck, totally camouflaging himself.  I love these birds, they're just like transformers. You wouldn't have believed it was the same bird.  They are so invisible in the forest, blending in so exquisitely that you only notice them when they shoot up from the ground with loud flapping of their wings, heart-attack optional.

If the weather permits, I'm going snowy owl spotting on Sunday.  Rumour has it there's a pair close by.  I'll have to stake out the spot and keep my fingers crossed.  Eric saw one a few weeks ago, but he was in Toronto, and he saw it at the airport, hardly a choice area for bird-watching.  I was still jealous since I haven't seen one yet.  The other day, I thought I saw one, and excitedly grabbed my glasses, clutched my binoculars, and said a quick prayer that my dream-bird was indeed there.  Alas, it was a plastic shopping bag, hung up on a tree branch, moving gently in the wind.  The cruelty of it all.

On a completely unrelated note:  this winter, I thought I'd be ahead of the curve if I stockpiled dry cat food and cat litter.  Costco had one of these great offers - a 10 kg bag of dry Whiskas (the only dry food all our cats agree on) had one of those rebate coupons, so I optimistically grabbed 2 bags, saved something like 7 bucks, and hoped this would see Bob and Tessie through the winter.  One 10 kg bag fills the Rubbermaid bin I store in laundry room, and the other bag...well...let's just say I stored it in our locked storage shed, and periodically checked the bag.  It didn't SEEM compromised, until I went to pick it up and bring it in the house.  Yup.  Our mice must be the best fed mice in the area, because they stashed 5 kilos of cat food in no time at all.  The little buggers.  They beat me at my own game.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cooper and BobCat's Most Excellent Adventure

Saturday dawned bright with mild temperatures hovering at the +2C mark.  It was the perfect opportunity to go and check how the drainage work for Highway 30 was progressing on the mid-point of our property.  We've seen the equipment off in the distance, and what looks like piles of snow pushed aside, so it was time for an inspection.

With Cooper leading and BobCat in tow, we started out:
Here is a little oak tree we planted in our hedgerow.  Check out the little bird's nest!  This tiny tree comes up to my hip, if that.  The nest probably belongs to a song sparrow.  Of all the trees to choose from, I'm not sure why he or she didn't set their sights higher.

The excavation work for the drainage of Highway 30 isn't supposed to begin before February 20th.  Why this little tree has already been bulldozed down is beyond me:
I'm sure by the end of this drainage fiasco, we'll find even more trees damaged or bulldozed over, since the work hasn't even technically started.  Well.  It looks like someone's been having fun driving the bulldozer around by the looks of the snow piled up on  the right side of the photo:
So far, we've received 3 registered letters about the work, plus Eric's attended one meeting, so we can't say we weren't warned.  The engineers do what consultants do best, which is dot their i's and cross their t's.  Maybe someone should have informed the excavation company that they were supposed to be accessing the ditch from the other side, don't you think?  Or am I the only one who knows how to read a map?

Getting back to business.  Note BobCat in the above photo.  The big tub normally abandons us at this point, if not well before.  Today, he must have been in a good mood, because he decided to tag along.  My goal is to make it to the construction of the actual highway which is just beyond the far end of our property.  We need to walk 1300m to get there.  The above marks our approximate half-way point.

With Cooper following his nose and BobCat trailing a few steps behind, we make our way to the end of our field and into our woods.  In the 10 years I've lived here,  I've walked to the end of the woods exactly once, and I didn't even do it on our property - I followed a trail on a farm a few properties over.  Today, we're trailblazing.
It looks like a Pileated Woodpecker's been here recently.  I didn't see any birds today, but I did hear a crow calling.  The woods were quiet - there were no coyote tracks, no deer tracks - just a few fox and bunny tracks.

I wonder if this is a bunny den?  The tracks lead right into it, but I didn't want to disturb it.  There's enough disruption with all the heavy-equipment work being carried out here that the wildlife's taken refuge elsewhere.  We'll leave these bunnies undisturbed.

I knew we had a dump at the front of our forest, what I didn't know is that we have a dump at the back of our forest, too.
Lots of galvanized metal, old mattresses, metal pails, washer drums and what-not.  This has probably been rotting here for the past 50 or 60 years or so.

I can turn a blind eye to metal, because it will eventually rust to bits, but the tires?  Oh, the tires are going to have to come out of here.  There were about 4 or 5 in various places.  Who knows?  Maybe we'll find something exciting when we get around to pulling these out.  If you look really closely at the above photo, you can see one of the yellow dump trucks used for building the highway off in the distance.
Here you go.  I've zoomed it in for you.  I have no clue why there were 5 or 6 trucks parked in a row here.  Probably so they're out of reach of vandals.  No fools venture out here, except for me.

At the ditch-line that signals the end of our property, we find evidence of beavers hard at work:
I don't know if this is a type of aspen or poplar, but they were busy little beavers.
BobCat is crossing the ditch that marks the far part of our property on one of the trees felled by the beavers.  Cooper's already walking on the ice that covers the ditch, and with all the construction work going on here, I'm not sure how deep it is, so I've called him off in the hopes that BobCat would turn back too.  My strategy worked.
Cooper's back beside me, and I'm looking down at what I'm pretty sure is the access to the beaver's den.  There was a lot of track activity around here, so I wanted to get Cooper back on terra firma.  The last thing I need this week is my dog breaking through a beaver dam.

I've never been this far on our property before, so I don't have any references to orient myself, save the ditch in the above photo, and the drone of the highway.  I figured I'd walk out the same way I walked in, following my own footprints in the snow.  That worked out really well until I looked down and discovered I was walking in Cooper's prints, and I wasn't quite convinced if they were coming or going.  That worked out well, didn't it?  Now, I've got a really good sense of direction and I'm pretty sure of where I am within 100m give or take.  I wasn't worried because if push really came to shove, I'd simply walk back on the highway under construction, and make my way home from there.  I found my way back through the woods and exited about 50 m from where I went in, but it was a slog.  I had snow over my knees a few times (hence, into my boots...) and at this point, I just wanted to get home.  BobCat too:

When I lost sight of him, I'd call his name, and he'd reply with the loudest meows I've ever heard him make.  I'm not sure if he enjoyed the experience or not, based on the wide-eyed expression on his face above.  Once back on open field, my wet feet decided we'd had enough, so we took the path of least resistance and returned on our neighbour's property, and his tractor path which made the walk infinitely easier:
The whole walk took us about 2 hours to complete, and I was happy to come home.  Bob spent the entire night on Cooper's dog bed in the kitchen and Cooper spent the entire night on our bed, so I'd qualify both as exhausted at the end of their most excellent adventure.  I slept pretty tight too.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Today, this marvelous Elm, along with all the other trees in this hedgerow, were cut down.  This hedgerow measures 2000 feet  or 600 m in length, and features beautiful mature trees such as the elm above, interspersed with maples, ash, birch, beech and aspen, to name but a few.

Today, this is what's left:
Basically, it amounts to a whole big pile of "sweet fuck-all".  At least, that what we call it in french.
The brush that was stripped above will be left here to rot over the next 20 years or so.  No one's coming to clean this up - that would be too easy.
 Note the old cedar fence-post in the above photo.  It gives you an idea of the scale of this tree.
As it is, our white birches have suffered heavily in Quebec.  They're top-heavy trees that split during our ice storm on 1998, in addition to being attacked by leafminer.  There were a lot of healthy specimens in this hedgerow.

This is what remains of the beautiful Elm in the summertime photo above, one of the last standing in this region.  Those that weren't decimated by Dutch Elm disease are now killed by man.  It probably took 30 seconds with a chain saw to cut down this 100-plus year old tree.  The travesty defies logic.
Is this what we call sustainable land-management?

Is this responsible stewardship?

Does this make any sense whatsoever?

Why is the Ministry of Agriculture subsidising us as a MAPAQ-registered farm to plant windbreak trees,  when these mature and healthy trees are being cut down on neighboring MAPAQ fields?

Who makes these decisions and who approves the desecration of these necessary and beautiful trees?
Trees clean our soil through phytoremediation.  That's a fancy word for saying they purify the soil, especially important in areas where fertilizers, pesticides and animal wastes are used, such as the fields above.  Water from these fields leads to run-off that leads to streams that leads to rivers that supplies us with drinking water.  Not to mention the corn, wheat and soy and their by-products that are grown here are found in probably 90% of all processed foods, in some form or another.  You should be worried.  Very worried.

Trees act as a windbreak and a sound-break, especially important considering this hedgerow is a mere 2000 feet or 600 m from THE most heavily-traveled route in North America, the Quebec City - Windsor Corridor.  Again, logic is defied.  We're putting up man-made, hideously disgusting sound barriers that are so unaesthetic people would rather hear the drone of traffic rather than view the concrete monstrosities we're currently putting up.  Let's not even bring the cost, funded by your tax money, into play.

Aren't we supposed to lessen our carbon-footprint?  Aren't we supposed to be concerned about climate change?  Trees act as a carbon sink.  According to stats from the USDA, one acre of trees take in 6 tonnes of carbon dioxide, and put out 4 tonnes of oxygen.  Last time I checked, oxygen was a pretty rudimentary necessity.

The senselessness of this act shocks and dismays me on so many levels.  The utter disregard of nature, logic and common sense can't even be measured.

I am dumbfounded and saddened.  Those who understand the intangible energy and spiritual significance  these trees emanate know where I'm coming from.

And those who don't?  They'll never know just how much they're missing.

Monday, February 6, 2012

February Blues

Invariably, February hits and suddenly, winter's started to get long.  There's no denying we're in the doldrums of the season.
I trekked out to the field beside the barn and emptied out the ash pail in my favorite spot, Cooper at my side.

We stopped to check out the coyote tracks:
All these exciting smells to take in!

We've had lots of freezing rain this season, and there's a nice thick, icy crust on the snow that makes walking difficult.  It's thick enough to support my weight, but every so often, I break through, giving my 40-odd year-old hips an unpleasant jolt.  Cross-country skiing or walking along the hedgerow is impossible.  Every year I keep threatening to buy snow shoes, but I'm not convinced it would be any easier in these conditions.

The saving grace of February is that the days are getting longer:
At this time of the year, the house casts a shadow on the side of the barn.  For some strange reason, this never ceases to amaze me.  I am also pleased to report the sun is setting past 5 PM now, and coupled with the fact February is our shortest month, the end of Winter is in sight.

Our Old Hag Schatzie isn't doing so well, and we've had too many discussions about just how numbered her days are.  Calling the shots where a nearly 27 year-old cat is concerned is hard - she has good days and bad days.  If I had the slightest inkling she was in pain, I'd call the vet to the house, but she's still an affectionate little velcro-cat who demands her food and continues to clean her snout on my right elbow as she settles in on the couch for another protracted nap.  Litter box accidents are now more of a rule than an exception, and it's not enough for me to justify ending her existence.  In the interim, I pet her little head, rub her under her chin, and her gratitude fills me.  She's the only living link we have with the past, and the last remaining vestige of Mr. Lefebure, and putting an end to her days would be premature, I think.

I've even kept the Christmas lights up (as I am wont to do), and still light them from time to time:

They'll probably (probably!) come down during our next big thaw - whenever that is - and when the opportunity to wash the windows presents itself again.

So, despite the snow, and freezing rain, and cold temperatures, we have longer days, clear skies and our little menagerie sitting by the fire, vying for the best spot.
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