Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Apparently I found a new template... I think I like it. More "Prairie Sky"-like.


So I've been making yoghurt again lately. It was something I'd fallen out of the habit of doing, actually for so long that I'd forgotten exactly how it's done. I looked up the instructions, and made a batch up, quick as that.

Now, almost every recipe says to heat the milk to 185 degrees, and I never figured out why. I always assumed that it was to kill any pathogens, but since we buy pasteurized milk that wasn't a concern. (Not that it would be much of a concern anyway, if I could find myself raw milk from a local farmer, but that's not the point of the story.) In any case, not being the adventurous type, I always followed those directions to the letter.

Except last time. Last time I rebelled. "Self," I said, "Branch out. Live large. Try heating that milk to a mere 110 and see what happens."

What happens, dear readers, is yoghurt soup. It's got all the tangy bacterial stuff goin' on, but it doesn't thicken. So I went web-picking, and found out that this is because:

"At that temp (referring to 185 degrees), the whey proteins will denature and coagulate to enhance the viscosity and texture."
- Some ask-a-question site.

There you have it. This afternoon, I, much chastened, heated my milk to 185. I like my yoghurt thick.

I know that sometime in my distant past I posted a how-to on yoghurt making, but in case any one round these parts wants to know, here it is again.

You need:

Milk, about as much as you'd like to see turn into yoghurt.
Plain yoghurt, as stuffed full of pro-biotics as you can find, a few tablespoons or so.
Cooking thermometer.
Cheesecloth (optional).

In a large saucepan, slowly heat the milk to 185 degrees, stirring occasionally so it doesn't cook to the bottom. When I got it there this time, I turned off the burner and put the lid on for a few minutes, which supposedly enhances the thickening process. (I'll let you know how that works out later.)

Once that heat has been reached, set the pan into a few inches of cold water in the sink. Cool it to 110 degrees. Take it out of the water. Stir in your yoghurt, which will start the bacterial process.

Keep your lidded yoghurt warm for at least 8 hours, or better yet, overnight. I've done this overtop a heating vent in the winter when the furnace is going all the time, with a cardboard box over the saucepan to keep the heat in. (This is why you need to keep the lid on, so you don't enrich your yoghurt with dust.) I've also done it by turning the light on in the oven overnight, covering the stove-top vent, and letting it do its time there. Right now my yoghurt is on the outside railing, where the sun was pretty strong. That's about to change, and I notice the sky is already getting dark, so maybe I'll try Chive's idea of putting it in the big cooler with a hot water bottle.

After it's had its working time, you can either just use it as is, or strain it with cheesecloth. I did that the time before last, and quite liked the extra "dryness" of the end product. I put the whey on the compost heap. Does anyone else have any other ideas for it?

Then put the yoghurt into whatever container suits your fancy. Not so hard, huh?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

St. Robertson

There is no nonsense so gross that society will not,
at some time,
make a doctrine of it and defend it
with every weapon of communal stupidity.

-Robertson Davies

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Quick - Before I forget!

For some reason, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of food around here, for all the bulging pantries and whatnot. Could be something to do with me being away for school, I suppose... there were a lot of unwashed dishes lingering on the counters too.

So I was casting about in my tired mind for what on earth we'd have for supper tonight, and then I remembered that a client had given me a big bag of fresh spinach that needed to be used.

Spinach. Here are my two experiences of spinach:

1. Three years old. (One of my very few early memories, and that's a measure of how deeply I was scarred.) My babysitter served up boiled spinach for lunch. I remember the horrible sliminess of it on my tongue, and gagging, and making an inner vow that NEVER AGAIN would anything so vile pass my lips.

2. Twenty years old, or thereabouts. Feeling rather elderly and sophisticated, and determined that my childhood prejudice need not stand in the way of varied culinary experience as an adult. Ordered a big fresh spinach salad with raspberry vinaigrette. It was unbelievably bitter. I don't know which godforsaken grotto they harvested the stuff from, but it was unfit for human consumption. The sliminess was mercifully absent, but the taste, while different from boiled hanks of greenery, was no better. Another vow made.

But here I am at forty, and this lovely lady gave me a big bag of spinach fresh from her garden, and I want to eat it, for her sake and mine. I'm famished for greens. So I girded my spiritual loins, and sat down at the computer to find a recipe to use what I had at hand.

Found it long enough to make it, and then promptly lost it before I could bookmark.

You know what? It was good. The spinach was good all by itself, and made into this salad, it was wonderful. I guess spinach is back on my list of possible things to grow, if my garden ever decides to put out.

So before my eager cerebral delete-function effectively erases the recipe from my memory banks, here it is:

Spinach, enough to feed whichever multitude you're working on.

Hard-boiled eggs, one or two per serving

Bacon, about three strips per serving, diced up smallish.

Fry up the bacon until it's almost crisp. Turn off the pan. Take the bacon bits out and let them degrease themselves on a piece of paper towel, and remove most of the drippings from the pan. Now, for four servings, I left about 3 tablespoons in the frying pan, so that gives you an idea of how much to reserve for the dressing.

For four servings, I added to the drippings

1 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. sugar

and cooked them on medium heat for 3 minutes. I then mixed together

1/2 c. water
1/4 c. vinegar

in a measuring cup, and then added them to the pan, stirring like mad while the liquid took on the cornstarch and thickened. When it's cooked itself clear and slightly viscous, it's ready.

Have your (washed, dried and ripped bite-size) spinach in individual bowls, sprinkle on bacon bits, and slice an egg or two to spread over the top. Over the works, spoon a bit of dressing from the pan.

(In the interest of aesthetics, I took the picture pre-dressing. But it still looks abundantly edible post-dressing, believe me.)


Chive said the only problem with the recipe was that there wasn't enough.

And school? I'm finished. I passed my exams. I came home and slept. I'm ready for acupuncture in the fall! Bring it on, Popeye!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Coop (Not "co-op", though he's probably got one...)

I confess: I lurk.

No, I'm not just conjugating. I really do lurk. I have a lot of blogs saved into my "favourites" column that I spin through everyday, and leave nary a comment. Usually (and this is the confession part), I drive past these blogs like a rubbernecker driving past a crash site - horrified fascination. There are lives out there that appall me but I just can't stop peeking in to see what the train-wreck consists of today. I don't leave a comment, because what on earth do you say when someone lives oblivious to the fact that they're continuously shooting themselves in the foot/feet/groin/insert-body-part-here?

Sometimes my fascination is less macabre, and more just relief that I don't have to live like that. I found this book reviewed on one of those sites. A quiverfull site. Are you familiar? "Quiverfull Families" take the viewpoint that couples should have as many children as "God sends", without restricting fertility in any way, natural or otherwise. A lot of those sites spend a great deal of time proselytizing regarding their pro-pregancy stance, but they also tend to be folks who garden and raise chickens, and live frugally, and write about that sort of thing too. And for that, I lurk meaningfully.

This book was reviewed on a quiverfull blog. The blogstress was rather disappointed in the author's lack of True Faith, but she conceded that his agrarian lifestyle was admirable, and the book was well-written. It is.

I loved this book. Funny, real, honest. I don't want to do a review per se, but if you're looking for something to read, you'd be doing yourself a favour with this one.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Every once in a while you're given the privilege of having your perspective adjusted. That happened to me yesterday. The world looks different this morning. I'm re-evaluating my responses to the everyday situations around me, working at letting go of what "should" be and seeing what is with grateful-er eyes.

It's not my story to tell. But I'm a bit player, and again, it's my privilege to be that. Everything could change and maybe it will.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Unfinished Business

I'm off to visit a friend today, with an unfinished quilt in tow. Hers. Her birthday/law-school-graduation quilt that I've been chipping away at for the last couple years. How embarrassing! And it's her birthday (again) next week. So today the quilt comes along, as proof that I haven't just forgotten, and that I will eventually get that binding tacked on!

It's a nine-patch with alternate half-square triangles that form a diamond pattern in the background. Unfortunately I'm not the fussiest piecer, so a lot of those triangles have very blunt points. Oh well. Overall it still looks alright.

Exams next weekend, and then my time is mine to fill as I please!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

We Went to the Lake

Sunday morning I announced that I was going to the lake. Any cheerful, polite folk in the vicinity were welcome to come with me. The sibling rivalry was uninvited. Surprisingly enough, three other people made the trip too.

And the canoe, Chive's "mid-life crisis". Some men need a little red Corvette.
He got a little red canoe. He's good that way.

We packed amid the other events of the day, and arrived with a vanload of food. It was quickly devoured as canoe-fuel. Life-jackets were duly snapped on, and away we went.

It was an unbelievably beautiful afternoon. I don't remember the last time I enjoyed myself that much. I've been under a grey sky for longer than I can remember, but the sun is definitely breaking through at regular intervals now. I sat there with a paddle in my hand and just laughed. My heart was light on the water.

We went a few kilometres and sighted a sandy(ish) little beach to pull into.

Patch was the first one up on the shore, and within seconds he was calling. "Mum! Quick! Bring your camera!" There were four swallow-tails resting on the sand in the shade, their wings spread out wide. I crept as softly as I could, but they took flight. Eventually one came back to rest. And do you see the deer tracks? Everyone comes to the water sooner or later.

The colours are lovely, especially up close.

Wading in the cold water was fabulous. I think I raised the core temperature of the lake by seveal degrees, all by myself. My feet have been really hot lately, and I barely felt the cold bite at all.

We splashed around and threw driftwood back from whence it came and stalked the butterflies which continued to circle after I disturbed them. And eventually it was over, the moment was sated, and we tipped ourselves back into the canoe and headed for home.

Unaccountably, in spite of all that went before, it was a truly beautiful afternoon. I think I'll remember this one for a long, long time.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Recovering Bigot Gets Another Chance to Practice

This morning I'm feeling a little like a character from a Flannery O'Connor short-story, but I can't really pinpoint which one. I shudder to think of the possibilities. Here's my account of the day.

On Sunday morning, as I was madly prepping food to go on our "impromptu" lakeside picnic, my husband showed up at the back door saying that "John" needed a glass of water. I thought he said "Joe", and rolled my third eye for the sake of the guy who always shows up for food and never helps with anything if he can possibly get out of it. But it wasn't Joe. It was some guy I'd never seen before. I said hi, and went back to what I was doing. He went to the bathroom, and I hid my purse.

Chive brought him into the house and gave him the water. He took a couple pills with it. Chive told me that John had gotten his truck stuck in the swamp beside our auction mart. John said he'd been looking for a place to pull over and sleep since he'd been driving for a long time, and hadn't realized that it was private property. I was having a hard time understanding that, so I assumed that he'd pulled in on the other side of our property line, onto a farm-trail that led into the neighbouring field. But no, he was stuck in our yard. Strange. I shrugged and went on baking.

He and Chive sat down together in the living room. I asked him if he'd had breakfast. He said no, and I volunteered to make him an omelette. "With cheese?" I asked. "Only mozzarella," he said, "I'm fussy about cheese." I shrugged. Not like I don't have mozza in the fridge. "With bacon?" "I'm allegic to bacon. And beef. And chicken." I shrugged, and went on cooking.

I served him his omelette and sat down to chat with him at table. I asked him about where he was from, where he was going, what he did. Am I nosy? Probably looks that way, but what I really am is suspicious. I want to know what his connections are, who he knows, who knows him, how he fits into the world as I know it. And all the while I'm trying to keep an open heart, to find a place for him in the world that makes sense, that means that I can relax and trust him. He's Native. Around here, there's a huge amount of prejudice against Natives. It's what I grew up with, but I don't want to be part it. I'm working overtime to not suspect. I'm telling my red-alerts to shut up. I'm assuming that what I'm hearing is the voices of the past. I don't want to be an bigoted asshole. I'm shaming myself.

He says he's from a community two hours east of here. So I'm thinking, why do you need to pull over and rest? What were you doing all night? He says he works for an organization there for at-risk youth. I never knew that had that institution in that town. I tell him about the sweat I wasn't able to attend the day before because of the short notice, and how I'm nervous about being able to breathe in there. He tells me how it goes, how to get down low and take short breaths. He tells me about how to snare a fish, how he and his grandad used to snare rabbits. I ask him if he knows anyone in ***** Creek, since I know people from there. He looks confused, shakes his head, no, he doesn't think so.

Chive keeps trying to talk to him about how to get the truck out, but John doesn't seem to care. He says his friend is going to come to meet him at the restaurant, they'll figure it out later.

He takes his dishes to the sink, shakes my hand, thanks me for breakfast. And leaves. I watch him walking through the trees into town.

The truck is still there. The truck is still there a few hours later. I send Poppy out to get the license plate number. They're Saskatchewan plates. I phone it into the police to check if it's been stolen. The dispatcher says that John had been found sleeping in a ditch by another resident, and the constables were on their way out. Yes, the truck was stolen. My heart sank.

I gave them my cell phone number. We went to the lake.

I talked to the local constable again this morning. She's taking statements. "John" came from Saskatchewan with the stolen truck. He'd stolen it from a woman, with violence, using a weapon. He'd just got out of jail for the same crime. He's in custody now, being transported back to Saskatchewan.

Mercy. There so many possibilities in this world, and so many of them don't come to pass. Some of them do.

I'm still processing my actions and reactions. Not just what I did, and what came out of my mouth, but what was in my heart. Am I still a slave to prejudice? Do I accept people as people, regardless of colour or culture? Do I really? Will I still be able to do that tomorrow? If someone shows up at my door again, will we start with a fresh slate?

I suspected him. But I suspected myself too.

And I find myself wondering, how much do mozzarella omelettes matter?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

This Day In Pictures


Juliet and Lolita

Maggie, in her favourite sleeping position.

Poppin' Peas!

Micro-lettuce, with a macro-lens.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thankful Thursday

And then the sky just opened up....

It was a full day. I tried to sleep in, through the rambunction of the early morning around here, and while I did that I dreamt of seeing seven tornadoes on the horizon as I searched in vain for my home. I was sure it was there somewhere. Seven tornadoes and a lost home. I wonder what it means, or if it means anything. Sometimes dreams do, I believe. I'll keep thinking about it.

But once I was up and about, well, there were messes to go, places to clean. Isn't that always the way? I cleared enough kitchen counter to make breakfast and sat down with that to compose my list for the day. Do you have a list? I need one. If I don't make a list for myself, I wander through the day with the vague notion that almost certainly something needs doing, but I can't for the life of me think of what it is. Or I start a needful project, run off to attend to something else, and then completely forget what I'd begun until it jumps up and bites me on the arse.

1. Pick up the chicken. We're not raising chickens this year, and I haven't been entirely happy about that, but so it goes. The empty freezer in the porch glared accusingly. So when the Co-Op announced a sale on chicken, I called them and ordered 10 CASES of eight each! Eighty chickens! They were due to arrive today.

2. E-mail study notes. A few days ago one of my classmates had requested some notes on nerve roots and paths, and the last couple days were so busy that I hadn't had a chance to respond. I didn't have this information anywhere except on my home-made flashcards, but I thought it would be a good review to type it all up "formally". In my case, repetition is the mother of memory.

3. Seed more lettuce, and dill. I ripped open that dill seed-package and nearly snorted the seeds right up into my sinuses. Gor, I love the smell!

I started with the notes. Brachial plexus: C5, C6, C7, C8, T1; musculocutaneous, axillary, radial, median, ulnar, and all their winding ways down the arm. Lumbosacral plexus: L2, L3, L4, L5, S1, S2; the obturator, the femoral and the ever-bifurcating sciatic splitting its path down thigh and calf. I sent it to the lady who'd made the request, and then to the rest of the class, figuring maybe someone else could use it.

On to the garden. Seeding turned out to be a larger matter than I'd originally conceived. First of all, once I got all close at hand, I found that there were quite a few clots of quackgrass and dandelion that needed routing, and thistle that needed to be discouraged. Our thistles spread by rhizome as well as seed, so it's not just a matter of extirpation. You have to return again and again to the same spot, since the demonic root will continue to send up shoots to invade your beets. If you keep after it, it does eventually lose heart and vigour, but it's not a job for the easily dismayed. Think years, not months.

After that, I turned my attention to the unsown bed, but it hadn't been worked up much since last year, so I got to spend a fair bit of time turning soil and combing it smooth with a rake. It's pleasing to see all that chicken litter mixed into the clay, and even more pleasing to see how many earthworms we've got this year. The first couple years after we bought this place, it had been so hard-used, and driven on, and starved, that worms were very few and far between. Now I turn up several with every shovelful. Glory!

The sky started to spit at me, so I drew my little lines in the beds for the lettuce seed, threw a handful at the dirt for the dill, mixed it all up, hung up my shovel and made for the house to clean my filthy feet.

I checked my e-mail. There was a reply from a classmate, assuring me that I, Madcap, TOTALLY ROCK for sending the notes. I believe this means she was thankful. It's Thursday, after all. ;-)

Wolfed a sandwich, went questing for chicken.

While the young lad in the meat department went hunting down my order, I strolled the aisles to fill my cart. Toilet paper. I buy a lot of toilet paper. Chive rolls his eyes, but I tell you, having a closet full of TP is a reassuring thing. Apples, cheese, salmon... I particularly buy what's on sale, and lots of it, especially non-perishables.

Sometimes I hear stories, usually from the States, about storms rolling in and people frantically jamming the grocery stores for foodstuffs and all, and I can hardly comprehend the lives they must lead. Why on earth would anyone with a kitchen not stock their shelves? The other day Chive and I were talking about disasters, and he went browsing through the cupboards and reckoned that we have enough food around for about three months. I'm working on that. I'd like it to be six months, or a year, but hey - three months is better than nothing, huh? But it's beyond my ken that anyone wouldn't have enough on hand to last even three days.

As I was loading the cases into the trunk and back seat, the rain began to get serious about its business. The drops were large. And wet. By the time I got home, puddles were merging to become lakes in our drive. I hollered for the kids and we unloaded. As we ferried the cases over the water and into the porch, the rain reconsidered its mission in life and became hail. Large hail. I tried to cower under my hair while I ripped open boxes and unloaded them into my freezer, but it didn't avail me much. Hailstones the size of my fingernails smacked me in the back of the neck and melted down my shirt. By the time we were finally finished, all three of us were as wet as mermaids. Poppy and Patch stripped off their coats and shoes and went screaming around the yard like the wild things they are, chasing the poor soggy kitties and wrestling each other to the ground.

I, much less entertainingly, sloshed into the house, toweled down, and checked my e-mail. Now I had a message assuring me of goddess-hood. Again, I believe this meant the sender was thankful of the notes.

Looking out the window, I was thankful too. Thankful that my plants aren't big enough to be damaged by the hail. Thankful that I got my seeds in before the deluge. Thankful that we're no longer living in a wildfire zone. Thankful that I have a lot of food in storage, and need not worry about feeding my family. Thankful that it was just hail, and not seven tornadoes, and that my home hasn't grown legs to go on walkabout.

And now I'm thankful that my bed is waiting so patiently. Why do I always stay vertical so long when horizontal is so wonderful?