Milkweed

I love Milkweed plants.  Even though they grow wild around here and are considered ‘weeds’ by some, I let them grow in amongst my flower gardens.  I used to pull them out!  Yikes!!  That’s until I discovered that Milkweed is VERY important to the Monarch Butterfly.

1110monarch

Milkweeds are the only plants on which the monarchs deposit their eggs and on which their larvae feed. No milkweed, no monarchs.  I noticed a few years ago, that there weren’t nearly as many Monarchs flittering around here as the year before.  I researched online and found out that there is a serious decline in the Monarch population in North America.

Milkweed growing in my flower garden

Milkweed growing in my flower garden

One report stated “In the 1990s, up to one billion monarchs made the flight each fall from the northern U.S. and Canada to the forests north of Mexico City, and more than one million overwintered in forested groves on the California coast. Now, researchers and citizen scientists estimate that only about 56.5 million monarchs remain, representing a decline of more than 80 per cent from the 21-year average across North America.”

Another news report this summer said “One of the most widely recognized butterflies in North America, the monarch, is disappearing fast. Most of that decline is blamed on changing land use, but property owners can help shore up the population by setting aside monarch “way stations” filled with milkweed and other nectar-rich plants.  The extent of the milkweed-monarch habitat loss since 1996 is believed to be an area roughly the size of Texas.”

Milkweed flowering in my garden

Milkweed flowering in my garden

I was determined to do my part to help bring back the Monarch butterfly.  Whenever I have the opportunity, I encourage Milkweed to grow on my property.  I let them spread by root and go to seed, hoping that more plants will come up next year.  The Milkweed isn’t taking over my flower beds and actually looks quite attractive mixed in with the rest of my ‘cottage-style’ garden.

Milkweed seed pods

Milkweed seed pods

I’m glad I made this observation about the missing Monarchs several years ago because now I have a good start on my Milkweed-enhanced garden.  Since I read that the most effective response is planting monarch “way stations” or habitats to provide the resources needed to produce successive generations of monarchs and sustain them during their migration, I believe I’m on the right track.

Family Treasures

This morning I dusted off the top of my wood cookstove’s warming oven where I keep important collectibles.  I had a good time, believe it or not.  Every time I picked up something which needed dusting, I was sent down memory lane.

This hard piece of fungus was brought home by my son Marty in 1997.  He skillfully scratched his name and date into it’s surface at that time.  I’ve kept it ever since as a tribute to Marty’s love of nature.

fungusWM

Driftwood.  I love collecting driftwood from the shores of both eastern and western Canada.  I’ve brought home hunks of driftwood sticking out of my carry-on luggage on an airliner or on top of my vehicle.  This wee piece was picked up on Vancouver Island and rests between a large chunk of redwood bark and a small twig covered in moss and lichens.

driftwoodWM

All over my house, I have artwork created by my children when they were young.  This funky mug was made by my daughter Nellie.

MugWM

Along with collecting driftwood, I like to walk along beaches and collect rocks and shells.  I have baskets of shells and sea glass on my front porch.  When my granddaughters Kalia and Livi were small, they used to love inspecting each and every shell over and over again.  This sliver of rock had fallen off the sheer rock face along the shore beside Percé Rock in the Gaspe where we visited with some of my grown children and grandchildren in 2008.

Perce

In low tide, you can walk on the sand bar out to the magnificent Percé Rock.  Years ago, I picked up a small piece of the rock which had falled off into a large heap at the base of the rock.

PerceRockrockWM

My daughter-in-law Nici painted this seagull in flight on a slice of granite.  Beautiful.

SeagullWM

When I was a little girl, we used to visit my grandparents’ farm on the Gaspé.  We would always go on little day trips to Hull’s River or Percé or down the Line Road to old family farmsteads to pick berries.  This old iron was found by my Mother in an old falling-down farm house which used to be home to a long-gone relative.  For years, my Mother used it as a door stop.

IronWM

I have other treasures that my children made for me or I picked up along the way of my life’s journey – they are scattered around the house where I can see or touch them and think.

Wild Raspberries

Sorry, but I won’t be making wild raspberry jam this summer.  Or pie.  The rain has been favourable for my wild raspberries – there’s a good area just before the lawn swing along the side of the backyard where they’ve totally taken off this year.  Every time I walk down to the garden, I pause and pick a berry or two……actually a handful or two.  They are perfect with no bugs, mold, or rot.  Better than the cultivated raspberry patch.  In fact, they are so perfect that I can’t seem to get them into the house.  I just keep eating them!  When my hand gets full of raspberries, I just pop them in my mouth and eat while picking another hand full.

WildRaspberriesWM

When I was a young girl in the 1950’s, I used to pick wild raspberries at my Grandparent’s farm on the Gaspe coast when we visited.  My Grandma, Mom, would tell us that if we picked a potful, she would make a pie.  So my cousins, Maureen and Verna, and I along with my sisters Betty and Faye would walk along the back road and pick wild raspberries along the fence lines.  We’d talk and play while we walked and picked a pot full.  Sure enough, Mom had a pie or two ready later that afternoon.

I wish that now I could resist eating all the berries that I pick.

So, again, I apologize in advance for NOT making jam.  Or pie.

handfulWM

Cinnamon Buns

One of my favourite memories of visiting my grandparent’s farm on the Gaspé is my Grandmother’s (‘Mom’ as we affectionately called her) cinnamon buns.  The smell of them baking was heavenly!  As a young woman, I never even attempted to bake these delicious rolls because I knew I’d never match those of Moms.  I’ve now accepted the fact that I cannot reproduce those specific buns or that smell of cinnamon mixed with the farm scents of manure and the ocean’s salty air in my grandmother’s kitchen.

doneWM

About 15 years ago, I got a bread making machine for Christmas.  I use it these days to make my own cinnamon roll dough.  The Basic Sweet Dough recipe calls for the ingredients to be added to the bread maker and the setting set on ‘Dough’.  After 90 minutes, the dough is ready to be rolled out on a floured countertop.  Last time I made these, I was outside during the machine-making phase and was so busy in the garden that I forgot about it until 2 hours past the time it was done.  When I got inside, the dough  completely  filled the entire bread machine right to the top!  It was the best dough ever!  I gently rolled it out being careful to maintain all the air bubble which make it rise.

doughWM

Once the dough is rolled out to approximately 12 inches by 18 inches, I butter it generously over the entire surface.  Then I spoon or shake on LOTS of cinnamon all over which I cover completely with brown sugar.  I roll it up into a long ‘log’ and cut one inch ‘rolls’ – about 12-15 of them.  Sometimes I put them in a glass pan but usually I bake them on a large cookie sheet.  I move my oven rack up one level so it’s not too close to the heat.  Preheat the oven to 325F degrees   and bake for 12-15 minutes.  I have a ‘hot’ oven so I usually take them out after about 14 minutes when they are just starting to brown.  We usually can’t wait for them to cool, so I carefully pull one apart to ‘taste-test’ it…….. well that’s my excuse anyway.

rolled out WM

Here’s the Cinnamon Buns recipe:

Basic Sweet Dough

Put all these ingredients into your bread-maker in order:

1 Cup Water

2 large eggs

¼ cup Butter, softened

2 teaspoons salt

4 cups flour

½ cup sugar

3 tablespoons Skim Milk Powder

2 teaspoons quick-rise Yeast

As I mentioned, select the ‘Dough’ setting on your bread-maker and start.

ingedientsWM

Once the dough is done, in 90 minutes (like I said, I’m letting mine sit in the bread-maker for another 2 hours from now on), lightly flour a countertop.  Dump the dough onto the flour.  Use a floured rolling pin to roll it out.  Check to see if it’s sticking to the counter and if it is, add more flour to the counter.  Completely butter it, add the cinnamon and sprinkle on the brown sugar with your hand, roll up, and cut into pieces.  Grease the baking pan with butter and ‘very lightly’ sprinkle a little bit of flour.  Place the round buns on your pan and cover with a linen cloth, waxed paper, or plastic wrap.  Put in the oven and turn the light on (which will add a bit of heat).  Let rise for one hour.  Remove from the oven after an hour, preheat to 325F and then bake for 12-15 minutes.

bakedWM

You can add icing if you want – I don’t usually.  Mix icing sugar with a wee bit of milk so it’s thick enough to gently spread.  AFTER the buns have cooled completely, drizzle with icing.

Store at room temperature in a container with a tight fitting lid.  I use a cookie tin.  It takes the two of us about 3 days to eat 15 cinnamon buns and the last one is as fresh as the first one.

Enjoy!

For my cousin Bruce, in honour of Andrea

Shoreline Naturalization

I’ve lived along the shores of the Rideau River for almost 35 years.  I’m grateful that nature has shared it with me and others.  This river and the canal system that’s part of it, is a National Historic Site, Canadian Heritage River, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it remains the most extensive, well preserved and significant example of a continuous working canal/river in North America.  Most sections of the river remain in their natural state, even rugged wilderness, while other areas support farms, homes, small towns, two big cities, and historic lock stations.

Our local conservation association is helping waterfront homeowners to restore their shoreline to a natural state to encourage a more positive ecosystem for flora and fauna through their Shoreline Naturalization Program.  I first heard about this program a few years ago and even talked to someone at the local Ecofair last year.   I read up on it and even found the guidebook On the Living Edge Handbook: Your Handbook to Waterfront Living at last fall’s book fair.  I believe I already follow sustainable waterfront living, as mentioned in the book, like using clean recycled 45 gallon plastic drums (we were told they used to hold Coca-cola syrup) for our docks. But I was also guilty of a few things like making a beach 33 years ago with trucks of sand for the kids to play in.  In the last few years, I’ve let the cattails and natural plants grow back in along the beach.

Siberian Iris among the cattails

Siberian Iris among the cattails

This spring, I contacted the conservation authority to say that I was interested.  I was too late for this spring’s projects but I had an on-site shoreline consultation about my vision.   Luckily, I agreed to receive the ‘surplus stock’ from this years’ plantings:  a variety of 106 native trees and bushes including White Pine; Red Maple; Sugar Maple; White Birch; Bur Oak; Tamarack; Cedar; Sweet Gale; and Pagoda Dogwood.  They came as bare-rooted seedlings from 12-36” (less than a meter) tall.  I planted them in 3 days.

Most of the tree seedlings were planted along the sides of the property – sugar maples closer to the house for easier accessibility for tapping in the spring when there might still be snow on the ground.  The lower growing bushes, Sweet Gale and Pagoda Dogwood, were planted down along the river and up along the sides.  I’ve saved a few for my ditch project.

Daisy

Daisy

Along with these plantings, I’m practicing natural management of my grass cutting along the river.  I’ve left a wavy swath 5-15 feet wide along the river’s edge this year with a path to the dock.  I’m so thrilled that I have my own wee meadow!  There are all kinds of native plants already growing like Daisies, Siberian Iris, native Irises, ferns, Joe Pye Weed, orange Daylillies, and wild Morning Glories.  I’ve transplanted some ostrich ferns and other plants that love wet areas.  I also have some Rue Meadow growing prolifically on the path by my pond that I’m going to transplant down by the river.  Yesterday I noticed places where snapping turtles have probably laid their eggs.  And I think we have a resident muskrat under the old dock.

I’m looking forward to watching nature do her thing down by the river.

"Flags" wild Iris

“Flags” wild Iris

No More Bottled Water

Anyone who’s been to my place knows that our well water contains sulphur.  At times of the year, it smells strongly of rotten eggs to visitors.   When you live here, you come to assimilate the smell into our senses so it’s hardly noticeable.  My niece Brodie spent several weeks a year visiting as a child and used to bring flowery-smelling bubble bath so she could bathe without gagging on the smell of our water.

When the older children were growing up, we always used to drink our own well water.  If you allow the water to stand in an open container on the counter for a day or two, the sulphur taste and smell dissipates enough to make it palatable.  About 25 years ago, we started to fill 5 gallon jugs with town water whenever we went to visit someone.  We also filled up our jug at a neighbour’s farm where they had great drinking water with no sulphur.  It’s amazing to me that the quality of well water differs so much even within a few hundred feet.  I’m told that it depends on the depth of the drilled well and whether you hit a sulphur underground spring or not.

Then about 15 years ago, water coolers made an appearance on the market.  These electric contraptions were upright ‘stands’ which held special 5 gallon water jugs sold in stores for around 4 or 5 dollars each, with a $10 deposit on the returnable jug.  Most cooled the water but some also heated it up to nearly boiling.  It seemed like a good idea at the time to get a water cooler.  The kids could just help themselves to water with no more waiting or opening the fridge to get a drink all the time.  We thought that it would be a good idea to simply pick up a 5 gallon bottle of water (trucked from a spring across the province) while buying groceries and reduce our dependence on family and neighbours for water.  The novelty wore off within a couple of years.  First of all, I don’t like my drinking water cold and I am the one who drinks the most water.  So I ended up unplugging the darn thing.  Then when my husband got sick, it was hard for me to lift up one of those heavy 5 gallon bottles to put on the water cooler without spilling it all over the floor in the process.  Finally, I moved it out to the garage to store it.  I started to purchase one gallon jugs of spring water instead.  I also purchased 500 ml bottles of spring water in cases of 24 to take on-the-go.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  I never bought Nestle bottled water because I’ve boycotted Nestle products for decades because of their violation of the WHO Code (read more here).

I told myself that it was alright to buy bottled spring water because

  • Our well water tasted disgusting to some people
  • It was from Ontario so it doesn’t have a long way to travel
  • I was a faithful recycler of my plastic bottles
  • Water was cheaper than other beverages like juice

I’ve been nagged by guilt for a few years now.  I felt guilty about all the unnecessary plastic I was responsible for.  Ever since I started recycling and composting, my ‘garbage’ has been reduced significantly to mostly wrappings around products that I buy.  I thought I was being a hypocrite too because I talked the eco-talk but didn’t ‘walk the walk’.  So come hell or high water, I was going to make a change in my life and stop buying bottled water.  Well, it wasn’t that hard.

glass of well water

I was just fooling myself.  In fact, our well water doesn’t taste THAT bad if I do a few things – I fill a recycled one gallon jug with tap water from my well; let it sit on the counter for 2-3 days for the sulphur smell to dissipate; then boil a kettle full at night; and finally when it’s cooled in the morning, I put it in a glass jar or two and keep them in the fridge.  Voila, the sulphur taste and smell are gone!  And all the healthy minerals are still in my beautiful water.  There’s no added fluoride or disinfecting chemicals like in treated town water.  Using my own well water is more sustainable and eco-friendly.  I don’t have to go anywhere to get it and it doesn’t have to travel for hundreds of kilometers/miles to get to me – no non-renewable resources like gasoline used by the trucks which haul it.  It’s more economical because it’s free except the few cents in electricity costs to run the well pump.  It’s morally right and my snub to the biggest and most abusive water-bottler in the world, Nestle (read more about it here and here).  Most of all, it’s healthier for me to drink my own well water rather than town water that has been chemically treated or spring water that has an expiry date stamped on the bottle.

When I go out, I can take a container of my water with me – we already have several metal and glass travel water containers and oodles of thermoses.

I admit that I DO keep some jugs of water stored for emergency use – our well pump does not work if the electricity is out.  Some are clean, recycled 2 liter pop bottles filled with tap water and a few drops of bleach while others are store bought spring water.

I feel blessed that I have access to fresh, clean drinking water in a world where this right is not guaranteed.

Take 8 minutes of your life and watch the Story of Bottled Water here.  I’ve taken my moral forty lashes.

Backyard

Backyard

Pulled Pork

The weather has turned cold again for the umpteenth time this spring.  One day it’s 34C degrees and the next day it’s 6C degrees.  I honestly hate heating up the house when it’s SO hot outside so I won’t use my oven during hot weather. Today is a perfect day to bake since it’s only going to get up to 12C degrees, so I’m making pulled pork in the oven.   Not just any old internet pulled pork recipe – my daughter-in-law Jeanette’s Pulled Pork!   It’s ‘to die’ for.

I use my large roasting pan to cook it in but you can probably use a slow cooker if you adjust the cooking time.

Jeanette’s Pulled Pork Recipe

  • Pork roast (butt or shoulder, bone-in is best)  1 to 2kg
  • a few big chunks of veg like celery, carrot, onion, garlic in the bottom of the pot
  • put you roast on top
  • add what will be the equivalent  to a BBQ sauce below ( you can use your favourite bottled BBQ sauce but I’d recommend you try this recipe first)

In a large bowl, combine:

  • 3/4-1cup ketchup or plain can tomatoes or tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar or honey or molasses
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 3 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 (2 for spicy) tablespoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon chilli powder
  • pepper and some salt to taste
  • add (2 to) 3 cups water (stock/beer – I’ve always just used water but Jeanette says beer is best!). Make sure the liquid goes half way up the roast.
Ready to bake

Ready to bake

Cover with lid and cook in oven for 3+ hours at 325F degrees (or less long at 375F degrees), but basically till it falls apart.

Taste the sauce throughout to see if its balanced well and adjust a bit if necessary.

Remember the liquid will reduce and become a thicker sauce and the vinegar flavour will be less strong.  Check throughout to see if sauce is thickening…adjust salt at the end….you can uncover the last hour or so to let it really thicken.  Every time I’ve made this the sauce thickness has been different.

When done, scoop out the veggies and set aside in a covered oven-proof container.  Place in the oven, which you’ve just turned off, to keep warm.  Carefully remove the pork.  Place the roast pan with the barbeque sauce in the oven as well, to keep warm.

cooked

cooked

Remove all the meat off the bone and shred into small pieces.  This usually takes me 20+ minutes – hence why I keep the other stuff in the oven to keep warm.  Pour the warm sauce on top and mix.

Tonight we had pulled pork on garlic toast with a side of the carrots, celery, garlic, and onion from the pot.   It also goes nice on buns or as a side to veggie dishes or salad.  It’s quite a bit of meat for just two people so I usually divide it up into meal-size containers and freeze them for future use.

ready to eat

ready to eat

Thanks again Jea!

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