Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tonight's Menu

Tonight's Menu:
Seafood salad with young beets;
Corn on the Cob;
Homemade Apple Wine

As far as salads and soups go, I think you can combine just about any ingredients.

Jim had some small, young container-grown beets that I wanted to use for our main meal today.  He picked about eight of them, which I boiled, cooled, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces.  I gathered about 12 fresh lettuce leaves from the garden, washed and spun them and ripped them into bite sized pieces.

From the freezer I took out some crab flakes and some shrimp, also some pine nuts and some cooked quinoa.  I had picked fresh peas today, shelled and blanched them.  About a half cup went into the salad, along with all those other ingredients.

I made a fresh dressing from some olive oil, a crushed garlic clove and a bit of lime juice, which I sprinkled over the salad, some before tossing it and some after.

Just before we were ready to eat Jim picked four firm, filled out ears of corn and husked them.  I tossed them into a pot of boiling water, enough so that they floated.  After the water returned to a good boil, I timed them one minute, and then removed them from the heat.  We dressed them with some butter, salt and pepper.

This "Just Exactly Right" meal for a beautiful, warm Sunday afternoon was served with a small glass of chilled, homemade apple wine.

What a treat that all was!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Slow Food

I believe we qualify as "slow food people" because our food is all cooked "from scratch."  That's a funny expression, isn't it?  But I mean that we don't use prepared foods.  For dinner each day I make a salad from raw fixings, cook our own potatoes, pick and cook fresh vegetables from the garden and prepare a small serving of meat (about 3 ounces each).  Breakfast is always a large fresh fruit salad that Jim prepares (Thanks, Jim!) and some homemade muffins, bagels, oatmeal, etc. that I make.

This time of the year slow food is even slower.  These peas were picked between 12  and 12:15 today, shelled and boiled lightly for dinner at 1 p.m.  Have you ever had peas that fresh?  They are incredibly better than anything in a can.  Of course, in the winter, we are eating peas from the garden that have been boiled lightly, drained, cooled and frozen, packed into plastic bags and stored in the freezer.  They are still incredibly better than anything in a can.

Likewise, tomatoes that have been plucked from the plant 15 minutes ago, still warm from the sun, combined with an onion that was in the ground this morning, and whatever other fixings you have on hand for a salad, outshine anything for sale in the supermarket.  It's always a sad day in the late fall when we use our last home grown tomatoes and have to revert to buying greenhouse tomatoes from the grocery store.

Tomatoes can be picked green at the end of the season, just before the first killing frost, stored in the spare bedroom, spread out on newspaper under the bed (in the dark as much as possible) and taken out a few at a time.  Some years we eat
our own tomatoes until late December.

The corn that we planted early this summer (early enough that we had to cover it about five times to preserve it from frost) is getting close to ripe.  We've actually picked a few ears yesterday and today, but the kernels, though sweet and delicious, are not fully plumped out, and an ear doesn't fill you the way it should.  We each had two ears today.

We should let them go for at least four more days to fill out sufficiently.  Corn is my favourite vegetable, so it's hard to wait.  Fresh corn on the cob is another one of those treats that are available for just a short season.  I use lots of corn kernels the rest of the year  either from our own corn that I have frozen, or from a bag from the supermarket freezer.  There's not a whole lot of difference there between the home grown and the store bought.

Enjoy the wonderful freshness of summer vegetables while you can--either from your own backyard garden, the farmers' market, or your local grocery store!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Finishing Projects

When DS#2 and his family were visiting last week, the girls wanted to finish the quilts they had started last summer.  They also wanted to learn how to knit, and how to play the piano....  So we tackled the quilts first thing.  The oldest girl had finished the centre of her
quilt and just needed to sew the narrow pink border on.  That she did with great care.  We laid out the backing, batting and top and together, taking turns and using 501 basting spray made our three layer sandwich.  The meander quilting on machine is too difficult, even for a 12 year old, so I did that part for her.  I also (Saturday morning, before they left) sewed on the black and white binding.  Dear Granddaughter will have to sew the binding to the backing with hand stitching.

That should not be too hard, as her younger sister had that job this past week.  Her quilt was complete except for hand stitching the binding to the back.  That is actually a time consuming step, even for an accomplished quilter, so DGD spent a long time putting that finishing touch to her project.  But she did it!  Both quilts are lovely, and are the girls' own choices for material and arrangement of blocks.  Both quilts are very attractive also, and I'm really proud of them for finishing their projects and for making such a good job of them!

They both wanted to learn how to knit, so we got started on making some scarves.  There's a great, simple scarf pattern that is as follows: Cast on 18 sts.  Knit every row until you run out of yarn.  (That's supposed to be two 50gram balls.)  On the last row, knit, but don't bind off the first three stitches.  Bind of the centre 12 stitches, and let the last three stitches fall off the needle.  Pull out the first three and last three stitches all the way down to the beginning.  They will form loops on either side of the knitted centre.

 We picked yarn from my stash in colours that the girls liked.  The blue yarns are for the younger girl's scarf and the purple for the older one's.

Knitting always looks so intriguing to children, but they soon find out that it's a slow go.  The scarf projects went home with them at the end of the visit.  I wonder how far they will be by our next visit?

I taught dear daughter-in-law to knit about ten years ago, and she's done many projects since then.  This year she wanted to learn how to knit socks.  Since I'm on a toe-up sock binge right now, that's what I taught her.  She powered right through, knitting one sock from the toe cast on to the ribbing above the heel while she was here, basically from sometime on Tuesday to sometime on Friday.  That project also went home with her.  She's planning to purchase the Toe up, 2 at a time sock book from Mary Maxim.  That's an excellent book with clear explanations and very good photos to show each step.

I was able to finish the new pair of socks for my dear Sis while they were here.  I had sent her a pair for her birthday in May, but they were too big, and were lovingly adopted by her husband, who thought they were nifty.  So I hope this pair fits her.  I thought they were very attractive.  It's a Mary Maxim yarn, Aloe sock yarn in "Horizon" a self-striping yarn.  The trick then is to get both socks to start at the same place in the yarn.  These turned out rather well.

Now that those socks are finished, I'm turning my attention to finishing some old projects.  I got out a beautiful colour work cardigan that I started in 2008, as a project for our trip that year.  I soon found out that the chart was too complicated to knit in the car.  It requires careful attention.  The back is finished, and I'm working on the left front.  A few more rows and I'll be through the chart and able to knit much faster with just the background colour.  Of course, after that there's the other front, the two sleeves, sewing the pieces together and knitting on the front plackets and the shawl collar.  It won't be done in a week!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Highly Recommended

Exactly six weeks ago today was my last day of teaching for the term.  Exactly seven weeks from today I begin teaching violin lessons again.  So about half my summer holiday is used up already, and not one of my summer projects has even begun.  Why?  Well, the weeks were used up pleasurably by my travels and by hosting visitors.  Now there are just two more loads of laundry to catch up on, well, say three loads because I really should wash the rugs by the front and back doors.

June was cold and rainy.  The rain was a great blessing because we started the summer with practically no ground moisture.  The last week and a half has been very hot (for our area)--well into the 80ºF range.  I know I have nothing to complain about as most of North America has suffered from terrifically hot weather.  Plus, we have the advantage of cool nights.  Most morning when we get up the temperature is around +12ºC or 52ºF, giving the house a chance to cool off before the day heats up again.  The corn in our garden is enjoying this hot, humid time!

So I have some catching up to do here--first I'll tell you about a great, fun thing to do for a holiday treat in Alberta: On Saturday the 8th of July I drove up to Stettler, Alberta to meet Dear Son #2, his wife, two daughters and his mom- and dad-in-law.  Stettler is a small Alberta town that has something great going for it: an old fashioned steam train!

The train left the station at 2:30 in the afternoon (one of those hot days), traveled leisurely along for about an hour and half to its destination, Big Valley.  There were eleven old railway cars, of various sorts.  We ended up in the least comfortable: the seats that faced each other were so close that we had to "interleave" our knees.  The forward facing passengers' knees touched the backward facing seats!  Because of that we were assigned just one passenger per seat.

Soon after we left a "cowboy" came into our car with a guitar and proceeded to entertain us with jokes and songs.  We were invited to sing along.  I knew two of the songs: I've been working on the railroad, and Old MacDonald's farm.  The other songs were from the 70's and 80's, and were unfamiliar to me.  He was an excellent entertainer, told good, funny jokes that amused us all and were family oriented.  He was also able to quip offhand and made lots of jokes about my summer hat--a doily I had lifted from my coffee table, according to him.  All good fun.

There was a bar car (which we visited just to have a look) and a snack car where we each bought an iced cappuccino.  Good and cold, but not up to Tim Horton's standard.

At one point near Big Valley the train slowed to a stop and the conductor warned us that we were being attacked by a gang of desperadoes from Australia.  Sure enough, we heard gunfire and saw
masked bandits riding alongside us.  They soon overpowered the trainmen and boarded, stomping through each car with a large bag extended to collect the loot.  We recognized our singing cowboy immediately.

Because the "loot" was going to support the Children's Hospital, most of us willingly threw in some folding money.

The trainmen had gathered up their weapons and mounted a counter attack.  One of the robbers was soon shot off his horse and lay motionless in the grass.  His horse took advantage of the break to dine on the lush grass beside the train.

I felt a lot of sympathy for the gang members, as they were dressed authentically in drovers' coats, and were turning red faced from the heat.

With the robbers chased away (after collecting what loot they could), the train resumed its journey, stopping at the station in Big Valley.

We all got off and walked up the hill to the town hall where we were served an excellent prime rib dinner.  Iced tea, blue lemonade, water and red or white wine accompanied the meal--with generous refills.  The woman sitting next to DDIL had several refills and became quite jolly.  She was relating stories of her several marriages, while her current husband sat quietly beside her.  She became so friendly that DDIL said, "When we left I though she was going to kiss me!"

A stage show followed the meal, with a loose plot of a conflict between two country music people and four rock and roll musicians.  Lots of music was included, with keyboard, guitar and drums.  It was all high quality and very entertaining, but unfortunately so loud that I couldn't make out the words of most of the songs.  One standout was a quiet duet between the fellow on keyboard (country lover) and one of the rock and roll women who was lonesome for her roots.  They sang Country Roads and Shenandoah.  That was beautiful!!!

We then had some free time to wander around the village (pop. 350).  This beautiful old church is at the edge of town, atop a hill.  If I'd had more time, I would have gone around it and taken several photos.  But this was the town where DDIL's father went to school.  So we walked over there for nostalgia's sake.  He showed us the spot on the sidewalk where he received the scars on his knees.

On the way back to the train we came across the "Creation Science Museum"--a collection in an old house.  I didn't have time to go in, but DS did.  If I'd know it was there, I'd have made time to see what they displayed.

On the return trip this old-timer, one of the cast of entertainers on the train told us a lot of interesting things about steam trains, and trains in general.  For instance, the pattern of whistles of a train approaching a crossing is mandated: long, long, short, long.  I had learned that by living here on an acreage that is bordered by a railroad which crosses the range road just south of our place.  But I never knew the reason for that particular pattern: it is the morse code for the letter "Q" and dates back, according to him anyway, to Queen Victoria and her travels on her yacht.  When her yacht reached the harbour, instead of lining up for its turn to berth, the captain blasted the "Q" signal, and all the other ships got out of the way so the Queen could berth immediately.

Another very interesting fact related to how trains manage to stay on the rails around curves, which is complicated by the fact the the axles must be a solid, heavy bar without a differential.  I won't give away the answer here, because, just maybe, after hearing about this great summer outing, you will want to take a trip on the Alberta Steam Train from Stettler!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Batten Down the Hatches!

We had an unusually rainy June here in Alberta, and the result is that whenever we get a warm, sunny day, so much moisture is drawn up that afternoon thunderstorms form in the foothills, and then travel eastward over the plains.  Last night was business as usual, except that there were two extremely volatile cells.  We were under tornado warning for about an hour.

We could watch the storm approaching, looking quite ominous.  I also kept track of it on the government website radar.  It looked as if this storm cell would pass by us a few miles to the north, if it kept on tracking as it had been.

We switched from watching it out front to watching it from behind the house, the north side.  The atmosphere was very quiet--no winds, no noise from the storm UNTIL it came close enough for us to hear the growls and percussion of thunder.  Then the wind that rushes just ahead of the storm hit.  We took cover in the basement.

About 20 minutes later it seemed to be lessening, and we went to check.  Yes, it had moved off to the northeast.

Another cell that had blasted Calgary earlier was also tracking east, but about 50 kilometres south of us.  We were relieved to be spared damage, but felt very sorry for anyone whose crops and flowerbeds were damaged.  It seemed to hit particularly hard where last Sunday's heavy storm had dumped hail that flattened crops.

By the time we went to bed all seemed calm, but Jim woke up around 11:30 and there was lightning and thunder all around again.  I didn't hear it, and he stopped short of waking me up to go downstairs again.  But he said the light and sound show continued until about 1 a.m.  I'm glad I slept through it.

We had company last week, from Wednesday to this past Wednesday, Jim's nephew and his wife.  They used our place as a base and did some exploring from here.  All that cooking and cleaning tired me out, so I'm taking a few days off to read and relax.  Next Monday Dear Son #2 and his family arrive for a visit, so there will be lots to do then.