27 December 2010

Scenes from a frozen pond

Our unlikely little pond has surprised us once again by becoming a perfect outdoor skating pond. The dry winter so far has allowed great ice to form without much snow-clearing required. We're not really a big skating family, but this is a pretty great way to spend a sunny winter afternoon.

Monday forest photo: December 27, 2010

10:30am -10C clear
It's a very windy day, which makes it feel much colder than it is.  Our neighbour has gone over all the trails with his snowmobile, which makes walking very easy, though we still haven't had all that much snow.

23 December 2010

Not your run-of-the-mill mill

I'm really excited about my new KoMo Fidibus Medium grain mill.  KoMo is a German/Austrian company which manufactures synthetic  stone mills and flakers. This mill is obviously designed to last for decades. Not only does it grind stuff really well, but it's a very handsome object.

I used a Family Grain Mill attachment for my KitchenAid mixer for years, which certainly does a decent job, but makes a lot of noise and a certain amount of mess in the process. Also, it wreaks havoc on mixer gears, which makes it kind of pricey to operate over time.

But back to the Fidubus... I've had it for almost a week now and I've milled quite a lot of wheat and some oats. The mill is capable of grinding from a very fine to very coarse texture. I baked muffins, bread and cornbread, and cooked cracked oat porridge. Everything turned out wonderfully except for my easiest, tastiest, 100% whole wheat, no knead bread ever recipe. Several loaves of that came out as complete bricks. I made some basic whole wheat bread from the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book to check that my wheat wasn't the problem and it turned out perfectly. I did observe that the dough made from freshly ground wheat seemed to ferment way more than the commercial flour did. It was more like a sourdough starter than bread dough. My theory is that the flour from the mill is so fresh and contains all of the germ and bran as well as no additional conditioners, so it is just a little too lively to let to its own devices overnight. The resulting loaves were tasty but dense (I think I detected a small gravitational pull from one). I am not blaming the Fidibus, nor have I completely given up experimenting with the recipe.

Here it is in action:

21 December 2010

Axial tilt: the reason for the season

Today is the shortest day once again. I don't have any dramatic sunrise photographs like last year, or even the great sense of relief at reaching the darkest day I've expressed in previous years. It's not that I'm insensitive to the light this year, but things just didn't seem quite so dark this fall. And it's not that this fall has been less stressful than usual - quite the contrary. Perhaps it's my St. John's Wort tincture, or maybe it's the daily forest bathing. I've been deliberate about appreciating my moments and trying not to worry about the zillions of things that aren't going the way I'd like. Somehow, life just seems a little brighter than other years at this dark time, even though the days are still ridiculously short (8 hours, 42 minutes and 50 seconds).

I sort of managed to see the lunar eclipse this morning. It was one of those quite bright nights because of light reflecting off the snow and thin overcast and you could see the red glow of the moon behind the cloud, but not the moon itself. An hour or so later, there was a very spooky blackness - almost like a fog - that contrasted with the previous brightness. It creeped me out, so I went back to bed rather than watch anymore.

20 December 2010

Monday forest photo: December 20, 2010

3:15 pm -3C overcast
This close to the solstice, it gets dark pretty early in our part of the world. At late afternoon on an overcast day in late December, it's not very bright outside.

13 December 2010

Monday forest photo: December 13, 2010

3:30 pm 0C light rain
This photo is a bit of a cheat because it was taken Sunday, as I won't be home on Monday to take the picture. We've had freezing rain and rain, but still not a lot of snow. I did manage to capture Meg's butt this week.

12 December 2010

A deer slept here

A couple of days ago I saw an area of melted snow on the trail, which looked a little out of place. When I looked closer, it was apparent that a deer had bedded down for the night here, and its body heat had melted the snow. I don't know why she would have chosen this particular spot, rather than a more sheltered spot under the trees, but she did, and I'm glad I noticed it.

Somehow, we've still not had very much snow, in contrast to areas to the west and east and south of us, which are buried under the stuff. It's still easy to wander on the trails and now that everything is frozen, it's even possible to walk in the swampy area at the back of our property which is normally quite impassable.

08 December 2010

Slow Rise Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread (easiest, tastiest, 100% whole wheat, no knead bread ever)

You really shouldn't cut into the bread when it is still warm and eat it with jam and butter. That's what I tell my family, anyway.

For some reason, I haven't blogged much on bread, even though I am quite a bread nerd. I grind my own flour, though not so much recently, as I have ground through two sets of gears on my Kitchen Aid stand mixer and I decided to stop before I did the same to my mother's. I am currently waiting by the mailbox for my brand new German Komo Fidibus Medium grain mill, which I have every expectation will outlast me, but more on the new mill later.

As you may have figured out, I love whole wheat bread. And by whole wheat, I mean 100% whole wheat, no white flour and no added gluten flour. I have practically memorized The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, and have made hundreds of loaves following her recipes. I've mostly had great success by paying attention to the dough: temperature, texture, proofing, kneading and shaping as she describes. For a treat, I also like baking the white New York Times No Knead Bread in a dutch oven. It makes the best crusty loaf you'll find anywhere - and it's pretty simple.

I didn't think it was possible to make a simple, no knead 100% whole wheat bread. I was wrong, and it's even simpler than the NYT bread. I have to give inspiration credit to Real Whole Wheat Bread by Mark Bittman in The Food Matters Cookbook, but in a 4 ingredient recipe, when you change 3 quantities and the baking instructions, I think you can claim a bit of credit for yourself. I've been baking this with commercial whole wheat flour (Canadian, which I believe is made from harder wheat on average than American. I think you're ok if you use whole wheat bread flour in the US, but what do I know - Mark Bittman doesn't specify in his recipe) and the results are very good. I can't wait to try it out with my home ground organic hard wheat. This loaf is not a super-light high wonderbread-wannabe, but it has a moist, not too dense crumb and chewy crust, which is perfect for substantial sandwiches and toast. The long rise gives it a great depth of flavour that not even my Laurel's Kitchen loaves match.

Slow Rise Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

3 cups (450 grams) whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups water

1. Combine flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add water and stir. Dough should resemble a muffin batter: add more water if necessary.

2. Cover bowl and let sit for 12 - 18 hours. This is pretty flexible. You should see some bubbles on the surface and these will appear earlier if the room is warmer, later if the room is colder.

The loaf, ready to bake.

3. Oil an 8 x 4 loaf pan and scoop the dough in with a spatula. Smooth the top. Cover with a damp tea towel and let rise for 1 - 2 hours until the dough almost reaches the top of the pan.

4. About half an hour before the dough is completely risen, preheat the oven to 375F.

5. Bake the loaf for 50 minutes, or until it sounds hollow when thumped. Remove from pan and cool on a rack.

Notes: This differs from Mark Bittman's version in that I use less yeast and salt, but I haven't found any difference in the dough development. His calls for 2 teaspoons of salt, which is way more than most bread recipes. I use a bit more water than he calls for, though the consistency of the dough is batter-like as he describes. Mark Bittman calls for a 9 x 5 loaf pan but I use the smaller 8 x 4. I've always used the smaller loaf pan for whole wheat bread. I bake mine at a slightly higher temperature and for 5 minutes longer than he does, maybe because I've got more water, but at the internal temperature he recommends (200F), it wasn't baked enough.

06 December 2010

Monday forest photo: December 6, 2010

9:05am -7C very light snow
After all the rain we had last week, this cooler weather and snow is most welcome. Winter has arrived.

04 December 2010

"Progress" report

It's a quiet Saturday here. We really appreciate our quiet weekends because during the week, we are subjected to the sounds of heavy machinery digging and hammering as water and sewer are run up our road to the new subdivision development just past our house. The current residents along the road will not be able to hook into the water and sewer lines, though there will be fire hydrants.   Lower fire insurance rates will be our compensation for the noise and disruption we've experienced for the last several months.

The work is proceeding slowly, due to the bedrock that starts pretty much at the surface, and water that is determined to fill the trench as it is created. We've been told that they are making 80 to 100 ft. per day, but they've had several days when they quite obviously didn't come close. The edge of the hole is now at our property line and I expect they will be in front of our property for the next two weeks.

The rock requires hammering with a giant hydraulic hammer. It's broken into smaller pieces then trucked down the road to a giant pile at the construction site. Truckloads of fill are brought back from the construction site to fill the hole once the pipe is laid. The gas company will run the gas line (something else we can't connect to) after the water and sewer work is complete.

I try not to think too much about what is going on here. During the week, when the digging and hammering are ongoing, I try not to let the noise aggravate my anger about the energy being consumed to allow McMansions to be built, thus ensuring that even more energy is consumed by folks who want to reproduce a little bit of suburbia in the countryside.

02 December 2010

Oh crap, I'm melting.

Well, the UN has said that 2010 is shaping up to be the warmest on record in Canada. So far, we are 4C above normal. Quite frankly, much of the year was rather pleasant - a short, dry winter and a nice warm spring followed by a hot summer and a wet fall. Oh, there were some floods and tornadoes and forest fires, but they didn't affect me, so no big deal, right?

The Canadian Senate (unelected) just killed a Climate Change bill that had been passed by the House of Commons without any debate or hearings. The bill would have legislated modest but firm greenhouse gas reduction targets. I'm sure it wouldn't have been nearly enough to actually make any difference. And we've already blown off our Kyoto commitments so what were the odds we would have actually done anything positive even if the bill had passed, but still.

The climate change talks in Cancun don't look like they'll accomplish anything. I guess we'll just have to get used to a warmer climate and hope that peak oil and peak coal will do what governments won't.

30 November 2010

Thirty posts in thirty days!

Well, I made it. I blogged every day this month. I discovered that it actually gets easier to think of things to write about the more you do it, and I also discovered that some ideas need a bit more time to be fleshed out before they're truly ready for prime time. This was a good kickstart for me to get back into the blogging habit and I'm sure I will continue on a more regular schedule than I had been before November. I'll be happy to have my artificial rule lifted, but there's something about having a rule that the rest of the family respected. I could just say "I have to blog, now" and I was granted the time and space to do so. Regular blogging also improves blog traffic and I'm happy for the new readers.

The picture is a young Abe Lincoln cutting rails, not posts, but I couldn't resist.

29 November 2010

Monday forest photo: November 29, 2010

10:03am -1C scattered clouds
It's starting to look a bit like winter, but the forecast is for lots of rain over the next few days.

28 November 2010

Why is this dog smiling?

Meg and I both love our daily walks in the forest. I mostly stick to the trails and amble along, while Meg runs huge circles around me, taking side trips to chase squirrels. We've had a pretty wet fall, so there are some muddy spots on the trails and in the secret places where Meg goes. I wear my rubber boots so the mud doesn't bother me, and Meg wears her bright white fur, so the mud doesn't bother her. For much of the past few weeks, our walks have ended with Meg in the laundry sink getting rinsed off. Neither of us likes this very much - me because lifting a muddy, unhappy dog into the sink almost always results in some mud transferring from her to me, and she because, well, I don't know exactly, it's a dog thing. What could be so unpleasant about a nice warm shower after a brisk walk?

We've had a few cold nights recently, enough to freeze the mud puddles, and a tiny bit of snow to cover all the dirt. This fortunate state of affairs leaves Meg in pristine condition after a walk - maybe just a bit cleaner than when we started. We certainly don't miss the bath. In a part of the world where we have four distinct seasons: mud, mosquito, mud and winter; winter definitely has some advantages.

27 November 2010

Taking my own advice

Today was one of those glorious sunny-day-after-freezing rain days. There was a thin glaze of ice on just about everything topped off with a dusting of fluffy snow. There are a lot of red oaks in the forest and they tend to hold on to some of their leaves well into the winter so this is a very typical scene.

The woods were quiet today because it's Saturday and work next door at the former forest/ now gravel pit/ soon to be subdivision wasn't happening. I appreciate just hearing the wind and the birds rather than heavy machinery and blasting. Lovely.

26 November 2010

How to cope

Maybe these pharmaceutical companies are on to something. You can't change the world but you can feel better about it. Who needs freedom when you can have benzodiazepine or other habit-forming drugs? It's kind of seductive, this notion that you can take a pill and it won't matter what unpleasant circumstance you find yourself in, you will just be able to cope. Equanimity in a pill bottle. The Calvinist in me thinks this is just wrong - people were born to suffer. The bohemian in me thinks this is just wrong - alcohol and illegal drugs at least offer the possibility of a good time and no prescription required.

I don't know about the lady in the picture, but I can start to feel pretty stressed when I think about all the scary stuff going on in the world. Environmental and economic collapse and war-mongering all over. But it is possible to be fully aware of all the crap that's going on in the world and not feel utter despair without resorting to drugs. It's quite simple, really. Just let go of the idea that there needs to be a happy ending and life becomes much less stressful. Kind of like watching your second Coen brothers movie. Cultivate a sense of the absurd and just reading the news becomes black comedy. Once you realize that this won't end well, but it never does so you might as well enjoy the moment, then everything becomes a lot easier to bear.

Oh, and take a walk. It's better for your health than nihilism.

25 November 2010

Yet another laundry post

I love my clothesline. I enjoy hanging clothes out and I adore the fresh line-dried smell that lingers on them. My regular readers will know that I have a bit of an obsession about this, actually. Once we get to November though, it gets trickier to get a load of laundry completely dry outside and if it's very cold, not only do the clothes freeze, so do my hands. Winter starts for me when I give up and start hanging clothes inside. Hanging clothes inside is definitely second best - they don't get that fresh air smell, but there are no bird dropping worries, either. I have a pretty strong aversion to using the dryer as it seems not unlike burning money to dry clothes instead of just letting ordinary air (which in winter around here could always use a bit of moisture) do the job. In addition to the environmental and financial benefits of line drying, slackers like me enjoy the fact that clothes do not get more wrinkled the longer they linger on the drying rack, unlike the dryer where a few hours of neglect results in the dreaded dryer wrinkles.

I think we are unique in North America in regarding the coal-fired (or nuclear-powered, here in Ontario) clothes dryer as an essential item in the home. Even I, with all my evangelical line drying, have one. Obviously, our electricity rates are still too low if ordinary people still use them. I wonder what other coal-fired gadgets we'll come to find ludicrous instead of necessary when energy prices are double or triple what they are now.

By the way, a really great website about saving electricity is Michael Bluejay's Saving Electricity site. It is loaded with information and a fair bit of attitude ("only losers set their AC below 80") which makes it a pretty entertaining read, not to mention very useful.

Ok, I promise this is the last post about drying clothes. Really.

24 November 2010

Trees will begin to die from the top down

We've had a lot of strong wind lately which has knocked over a bunch of trees in the forest. Sadly, many of the downed trees are young sugar maples which snap off a few feet above the ground. Most of the sugar maples on the property are small and not very vigourous. The bark has an unhealthy silver palour and the tops are thin and have lots of dead branches. The wood of this tree is kind of punky and I fear that the rest of the maples are similarly doomed.

The fact that the sugar maples on our land are in such bad shape is rather sad given that there used to be a sugar bush here. There is the outline of the sugar shack still visible in the woods. (Perhaps not visible in this picture. You'll just have to believe me.) I suppose at some point someone decided sugaring was too much work and sold off the trees for firewood. No doubt this was the economically sensible thing to do at the time. Unfortunately, with all the large maples gone, there isn't a good seed stock to replenish the forest. I don't know whether all our sick young maples are suffering from environmental stress or perhaps they just lost the genetic crapshoot.

There are Algonquin pictographs warning of environmental catastrophe that say there will be a time when the trees, the maple trees, will begin to die from the top down. This would have been inconceivable at the time, yet here we are, witnessing exactly that.

23 November 2010

Ma and Pa are moving house

Here at Shack on the Edge (that's the name I just made up for our primary residence - it's on the edge of town and has us on the edge of sanity) we're preparing for a pretty big life event come spring. My parents are going to be putting up a house on our property and moving in. I guess it would be more correct to say they are having a house delivered. We're applying for a zoning change that allows for a garden suite for elderly or disabled family members. None of us, least of all my parents, considers them to be elderly or disabled but this works for our purposes - and they do qualify for seniors' discounts.

So in April or May a couple of big trucks will arrive and drop their house onto its spot. A few hours later, the house will be bolted together, connected to power, water and septic and ready to move into. And then my parents, who I have spent most of the last 27 years living quite far away from, will be living a stone's throw from my back door. Surprisingly, or maybe not, some family members seem quite skeptical that this arrangement will work out. Friends, on the other hand, have been nothing but supportive of the idea.

The idea is that we share the benefits of living on our land and support each other physically and mentally in our various projects. We'll each have on site pet sitting and plant watering when we're away. Madeleine will have regular access to her grandparents and we'll have an extra set of loving eyes to watch over her as she goes through her teens. We do anticipate that as my parents age we will be providing more support but I would like to think that it will be a much more seamless transition if we have already been living somewhat interdependently than if they were still living five hours drive away.

The trouble with life is that you can't see how the future is going to play out. We don't know if either or both of my parents will be living well and independently for 5 or 30 years, or for that matter, whether we will both be living healthy independent lives for that long. What if someone dies and their partner remarries? It's a challenging thing to throw in your lot with your spouse, let alone your parents or in-laws or kids, but so much of life is random and unpredictable, there's not anything to do but take the leap and trust that everyone is well intentioned and the twists and turns can be navigated.

22 November 2010

Monday forest photo: November 22, 2010

9:48 am 4C overcast
It's a pretty dreary November day. We had freezing rain overnight and rain is in the forecast for the next couple of days. Winter is still holding off.

21 November 2010

The fourth annual Christmas rant

By a stroke of circumstance, this year's Christmas obligations will be over for us by December 11. No one in my immediate little family is terribly enthusiastic about doing a big Christmas thing, so we will be free to completely ignore it or more likely, to put up some sparkly lights on a tree outside and sit inside by the fire with a warm drink. Christmas has gotten much simpler for me over the last few years as the message has gradually gotten around that I am a huge grinch and everyone's expectations have dropped accordingly. I have a strong aversion to advertising of any kind; I can't listen to commercial radio because I can't abide the ads, we don't have a tv, and I use Adblock Plus on the computer to filter ads. I avoid malls if I possibly can anyway, and I don't have young kids with overblown expectations. It's actually shaping up to be a pretty peaceful season.

It is true that I am a grinch, but primarily because I think that excessive consumption of largely useless crap is one of the main destructive forces on the planet. Our North American tradition of spending more money at Christmas than billions of people spend for an entire year is so wasteful and ridiculous we should all be ashamed. Given the lack of religious significance for me, there isn't really anything left to celebrate, except for it happens just after the solstice and the shortest day is behind us. I'll happily raise a toast to that.

My Christmas rants have gotten mellower over time. No doubt this is a result of the reduced expectations on me to live up to tradition which allows me to not actually think about it. In case you're interested:

Christmas is Cancelled - 2007
Time for the annual Christmas rant - 2008
By popular request - the annual Christmas rant - 2009

20 November 2010

Just a nibble

The forest floor was covered in wide variety of mushrooms this summer and fall. At one point I got excited because I thought I had found some chanterelles but when I brought them back and looked up chanterelles to identify them, they were obviously something different. The only mushrooms that are visible now are the ones that are on standing tree trunks. This group of mushrooms growing on a dead tree trunk looks pretty appetizing to me, and it seems that at least one other creature also found it tempting. I really need a mushroom expert to guide me, but I wonder if these are oyster mushrooms. I didn't see a dead chipmunk lying under the tree, but I'll fight the temptation to cook these up in butter and garlic and have a taste.

19 November 2010

Red wild strawberry

Just when it seems that everything in the forest is a muted shade of grey or brown or green, up pops a tiny jolt of red.

18 November 2010

Bohemian Waxwings and Wannabes

I stepped out onto the back deck this afternoon and noticed that the ash tree had a flock of 50 or so Bohemian Waxwings. I was happy that I was able to go back into the house and grab the camera without the flock getting spooked and flying away. The notable thing about them, in fact, was that they were all resting quietly - not at all like a flock of starlings in a tree. These guys aren't exactly rare, just irregular, but it's a nice treat to see them all the same.

By fun coincidence, there's a nice essay at New Escapologist today called Defining the Bohemian. I was thinking about it on my walk this morning. I decided before I'd gotten very far, that although it sounds so appealing to be a Bohemian (absinthe, anyone?), I don't think I am one, and besides I don't care about what sort of category of person I might fall into, which may be my most Bohemian characteristic. I was glad to get that sorted before I had gone too far, because carrying some kind of vague Bohemian inadequacy around was bound to slow me down.

17 November 2010

Rainy morning

We had a lot of rain overnight and it is still raining. The yard is soggy and the chickens aren't very smart about finding shelter, so they are going to spend the day indoors. They would have very happily gone outside even under the close supervision of Meg, the chicken herding dog. We have a no dogs allowed rule in the coop, so the birds can get some respite from their supervisor.

After our walk, Meg got a quick rinse in the laundry sink. This is not her favourite activity as you can see by her pouty expression.

The new bird feeder is doing booming business, but the automatic setting on my camera has captured mostly blurs. I may just have to learn something about how to use the shutter speed controls if I want better pictures.

16 November 2010

Veggie ferment

I've been cleaning up the garden and I decided to ferment some of the veggies I've harvested. I have a lot of turnips, some radishes, some tiny cabbages and quite a few carrots.

The purple cabbage was a volunteer from some cabbages that had gone to seed last year. Early in the spring, before we moved in, my husband and I laid straw down in the vegetable garden bed to prevent a huge weed catastrophe from developing. The bed was quite a mess and instead of cleaning up the rotten cabbages (what a stink - we thought there was a problem with the septic system) we just piled on more straw. The weeds came anyway and I didn't pay much attention to the little cabbages that were growing, hidden as they were in the straw and nettles, but a few grew and did very well in spite of the negligence. There was almost no insect damage.

I was inspired by a post at fast grow the weeds to make a sauerkraut with my little cabbages and other veggies. I added some garlic and hot pepper flakes as well. I ran everything through the food processor to get it all to a fine coleslaw-like consistency, then added salt and stuffed it into a jar. I'll check the brine level in the jar tomorrow and add more if all the veggies are not submerged. The hint I got from fast grow the weeds, is to stir and taste the ferment every day. That sounds like wise advice to me. 

I am convinced of the benefits of eating lacto-fermented foods, and I love the taste, but my family is not quite so enamoured of them. My husband, especially, is not keen on the saltiness. I will taste and adjust the salt as my veggies ferment to hopefully produce something everyone will eat.

“The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.”
Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions, pg 89

Day 2 update: My sauerkraut is a lovely purple colour and has a smell and taste that is as strong. What did I expect with all the garlic, onion, hot pepper, turnip and cabbage? I'll leave it on the counter for a couple more days before I put it in the fridge. 

15 November 2010

Monday forest photo: November 15, 2010

10:00 am 3C sky clear
I've been taking lots of pictures of our 20 acre patch of woods since we moved here in June, and it's fun to look at them and see the changes as the seasons progress. I've decided to formalize the process a bit by taking a picture from the same spot every Monday. I'm hoping this will provide an interesting record of the passage of time in this eastern Ontario young mixed forest. The spot I picked is along the trail just as you enter the forest from our backyard. There's nothing particularly noteworthy here except that it isn't so far that I won't be able to make it out here no matter what the weather or snow conditions and it's a pretty good representation of the trees and plants found throughout the property.

14 November 2010

Forbidden flower

My grandmother once commented that if she had known how to stop having babies she would have. She also said that if she would have had access to divorce she would have done that too. Perhaps she wouldn't have felt need of the latter if she had figured out the former. My grandmother bore twelve children in her life - no doubt there would have been more had she not waited until her late twenties to marry. The fact that my grandmother, an extremely conservative religious woman, would have uttered such things out loud speaks to the incredible hardship faced by women with no control over their fertility. God may provide, but he certainly doesn't do dishes or change diapers.

This summer, a herbalist gave me the knowledge that my grandmother could have used back in the forties and fifties, without latex or silicone or pills or thermometers or surgeries or prescriptions or even the knowledge of her husband. Women in ancient Greece and Rome had this knowledge. No doubt women in Europe also had this knowledge before the witch hunts.

Before I share this with you, dear reader, please let me stress that I am not a herbalist or medical professional and I have no personal experience with this method of birth control (I discovered it too late). If you are interested, please read Robin Rose Bennett's article all the way through (a couple of times) before deciding if you are comfortable with trying it. She is the herbalist who is the acknowledged expert on this method. Most articles online on the subject have just cut and paste from Robin Rose Bennett, but you really must read the original. A word of caution: herbalists sometimes do strange things like write in the voice of the plant they are discussing. Don't let that stop you from reading the whole thing.

And the secret is: Daucus carota, otherwise known as Queen Anne's Lace or Wild Carrot, the common white umbrella shaped flower seen in fields and vacant lots everywhere in late summer. The flowers and seeds are gathered and used fresh or dried to make teas or tinctures. These are consumed within 8 - 12 hours after sex and then twice more at 12 -24 hour intervals. I will leave the details of preparing and using the teas or tinctures to Robin Rose Bennett to explain, but it really is as simple as that. 

I don't know why a method of birth control which is reportedly safe, effective, convenient and inexpensive would not be as widely known as how to brush your teeth. I suppose it's a combination of the lack of profit potential for corporations, a patriarchal medical system, misogynist religion, and a general disconnection from the natural world but I would rather corporations, the medical system and religion just stayed out of my womb.

13 November 2010

November tadpole

I was lucky enough to have the camera with me today when I spotted this tadpole in the pond this morning. He wasn't moving, but I wouldn't expect him to in the cold water, some of which still has a thin layer of ice from overnight. I found it surprising that there would still be a tadpole at this time of year, but that just shows my ignorance. When I looked it up I discovered that some species of frogs, newts and toads overwinter as tadpoles and bullfrogs can take up to 3 years to complete their lifecycle. Our pond is so shallow, I had assumed that nothing other than insects would make it through a winter, but I'll be happy to be wrong.

What to eat for breakfast

A few years ago, I found a recipe for the creamiest, tastiest, best-tasting porridge ever. You start it the night before and cook it in the morning, which seems like it might be a lot of work, but all you do in the morning is turn on the stove and stir for a couple of minutes. It's easier than pouring cereal out of a box.

This recipe uses whole oat groats, which I buy in 10kg bags from the natural food store. They last indefinitely if stored in a cool dry place. I transfer mine from the bag into a food-grade plastic bucket to keep critters out. I transfer a few cups at a time into a glass jar to keep in the kitchen. The advantage to using the oat groats, rather than rolled oats, is that the germ has not oxidized in processing, so the full nutritive value is preserved. The digestibility of all whole grains is improved when they are soaked, especially with a souring agent such as yogourt, whey or sourdough starter. The soaking starts the fermentation process by developing lactic acid from airborne yeasts and the souring agent adds more live microorganisms that makes the cereal more nutritious. Crushing the groats gives the resulting porridge a combination of chewy and smooth textures which I love. I crush the oats by running them through the grain grinding attachment for my stand mixer at a coarse setting, but you can also use a mortar and pestle or give them a very quick spin in a blender or food processor. Crushing or grinding does give a nicer result than blending or processing. Dealing with the whole oats seems like a lot of trouble if you aren't used to it, but once you have them in your house and figure out how you'll crush them, you'll never go back to rolled oatmeal again.

So here is the recipe which I've modified slightly from the original I found in The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen by Peter Berley.

1 cup fresh, coarsely crushed whole oat berries
3 cups filtered or well water
2 tablespoons plain yogourt, whey or sourdough starter
1/4 teaspoon salt
  1. Combine the oats, water, yogourt and salt in a saucepan and cover. Let sit over night.
  2. In the morning, bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook gently for 10 minutes.
  3. Serve with your favourite toppings. I like it with plain yogourt and molasses.

12 November 2010

Future lawn

This little beech grove is in Phase 3 of the White Tail Ridge subdivision just on the other side of the fence from our property. I walk by it every morning during my daily walk. I try hard to appreciate its beauty now, just as it is, even knowing it may not last very much longer. This appreciating what is now turns out to be a very useful thing.

10 November 2010

Forest bathing

One of the first things I do every morning is take a pretty leisurely walk in the forest with Meg (leisurely for me - Meg tears around the trails like a bullet). This is a very pleasant thing to do and intuitively, it feels like it should be a pretty healthy thing too. This summer I read Arboraetum America by Diana Beresford-Kroeger. She talks a lot about the health benefits of being in the presence of trees because of the chemical substances they emit as they go about the business of defending themselves against insects and decay. Later this summer there were articles in the New York Times and Globe and Mail about the Japanese concept of shinrinyoku, or forest bathing. In Japan, people are encouraged, as a matter of public policy, to take in the forest air because of the proven benefits for the immune system and stress reduction. I love the idea of being in the forest as a cleansing, immersive experience. I certainly didn't need to have this kind of confirmation to know that walking in the forest is a great thing to do, but it's nice to have your intuition validated.

Knowing that in addition to the environmental and aesthetic qualities of forests, there are direct benefits to human health, makes their exploitation that much sadder. On that note, have a listen to Joni Mitchell singing Big Yellow Taxi, getting it right all those years ago:

09 November 2010

Furnished coop, all mod cons

Tonight is the first night the girls are spending in their new winter coop. They were a bit unsettled at being closed in, though most of them had happily ventured in to inspect the workmanship. Selma, one of the little brown hens, who looks a complete mess with her moulting feathers, refused to go inside, even with an oat bribe. She was on to me from the beginning and wouldn't allow herself to be caught. Eventually, I had to resort to raisins, which none of the girls can resist.

Lisa, Maggie and Patty are making themselves at home but Edna ran back and forth obsessively in front of the recycled patio door trying to get out. Tomorrow I will staple some cardboard over the bottom of the door to prevent her seeing outside. They'll spend the next couple of days in the coop to get the clear message that this is their new home. 

08 November 2010

Edna, Patty, Selma, Lisa and Maggie's new winter digs

Chicken tractor season is rapidly drawing to a close in our neck of the woods. The chickens do well outdoors until there is snow. They cannot abide the slightest sprinkling of snow underfoot. This is our second winter of chicken-keeping and our second house in that time, so we are outfitting our second winter coop in two years. The first coop was a shed that had been built as a goose house so required only minor modifications to house the birds. This coop started its life as a playhouse and required raising the ceiling and lowering the roof. We've done a fair amount of work to insulate and critter-proof the inside walls. We recycled a couple of windows and one side of a patio door so there should be lots of light inside.

I'll post more pictures once it is completed. With any luck, we'll have the girls moved in tomorrow and prepared for any weather.

07 November 2010

Standard time blues

Well, winter's back. No, it's not the first snowfall - we've already had that - it's the end of daylight saving time. I make an effort to get out and enjoy whatever daylight there is, but my overwhelming urge at this time of year is to go to bed and stay there until February. I always feel as though an hour of sunlight has been stolen from me, even though I appreciate the extra hour of daylight in the morning. 

I'm being a bit of a whiner here. I live in Southern Canada at the 45th parallel. Most of Canada, quite a bit of the US, and much of Europe is farther north and thus subject to even shorter winter days than we experience here. I don't even think I would like living farther south and missing out on our four distinct seasons and day length variation but I'm much more stoic about the cold and snow of winter than the darkness. 

Only 125 days until March 13...


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