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!

Living Legacy

This week I received 76 tree seedlings and 30 bushes free of charge because they were ‘surplus’ from a local project:  White Pine, Red Maple, White Birch, Sugar Maple, Bur Oak, Tamarack, Cedar, Sweet Gale, and Pagoda Dogwood.   All were bare root seedlings (not planted in a pretty one gallon container) ranging in height from 12-36 inches (up to one meter).  I assured the donor that I could definitely find homes on my property for every living plant, even though I re-gifted 10 trees to my son Darin for his home.

Bur Oak

Bur Oak tree

I had been expecting them, so I carefully drew up a map of where I wanted to plant all these wonderful trees and bushes.  It was truly a gift to receive them.   Most of the trees were planted along the sides of my property where they wouldn’t interfere with the gorgeous sunlight that feeds my soul and my garden – and maybe some day, solar panels.   White Pines were interspersed with Cedars and Sugar Maples nearest the house.  I thought that the Sugar Maples should be close so I can tap them in about 25 or 30 years to make maple syrup – maybe I’ll be like my Gramma who was active and busy when she was over 90 years old.   Sometimes there’s still snow on the ground when the Maples are tapped so being closer would be easy….. right?  Tamaracks and Cedars were planted down by the river since they like it wetter.  Some Red Maples and Bur Oaks were planted about halfway up the yard.  I tucked in a few Pagoda Dogwoods and Sweet Gale right along the riverside where they will thrive.  Most of the White Birch were reserved for the front of my house near the road where it’s drier.  They’ll grow up amongst the other maples, cedars, ash, and a variety of bushes.

White Pine

White Pine

The majority of Sweet Gale and Pagoda Dogwood bushes are destined for my ditch by the road.  It’s been an ongoing battle for me over the past few years, to keep my ditch perfectly manicured.  The sides are so steep that it’s very difficult for me to trim the grass.  So last fall, I decided to give in and let it be.  I’ll leave the centre of the ditch for the water to flow (or more like, sit and evaporate since it doesn’t really flow anywhere).  I have other bushes to add including Forsythia (which I have rooting in the kitchen), Hydrangea bushes (ready to be dug out from beside their momma bush), False Spirea (which has multiplied from the original single bush dozens of times over), Ostrich Ferns (which grow prolifically around here), Orange Daylilies (which desperately need dividing anyway), and that blasted Goutweed (which has invaded every garden – brought accidently into my garden with a friendly transplant).   So let the grass grow!  Soon it will be smothered by these other plants.

Sweet Gale waiting to be planted

Sweet Gale waiting to be planted

I reserved the three best trees for my three grandchildren who do not have a tree planted in their name yet.  To date, only 11 year old Kalia has a Ginko Biloba, 9 year old Livi has a Mountain Ash, and Spirit Baby has a White Pine.

I realize that I will likely never see these trees grow to maturity unless I live to be 100.  But as I planted each stick of a seedling, I wished it well on its journey and asked it to share its beauty with my children and grandchildren and whoever else might some day lay eyes on its magnificence.  My gift, my living legacy

Frogs

It’s springtime!  Nighttime at my place is filled with the sounds of frogs singing in concert.

Spring peepers are the most dominant frog tonight.  Multitudes of them are ‘peeping’ alone yet in unison with the others in all directions.  I can hear them from every window in every direction.  Here’s what they sound like.  Our riverside flood plain provides the right habitat for thriving populations of spring peepers, chorus frogs, wood frogs, leopard frogs, tree frogs….. well I could go on and on.

spring_peeper_102912_7

Spring peeper

Before dark, I can hear the occasional sound of a Robin or two, trying to get a word in edgewise.  And every once in a while, I can hear a solitary Gray Tree Frog.  The other evening, it was poised right on my back window just chillin’!

Bullfrogs begin croaking in their low moan as soon as darkness settles in.  Many large bullfrogs live in my pond for the summer after they hop up from the river.  Thousand more live in the river.  I greeted some today…..

Bullfrog

Bullfrog

The most prolific frog around here is the Leopard frog.  They are everywhere from the pond, river, grass, and ditches.  Muskey Joe, an American fisherman who frequents our river, used to catch them to use as bait, in our neighbourhood ditches until my young children shooed them away back in the day.  I remember when we moved here 34 years ago, hundreds and hundreds of leopard frogs were jumping for their lives, out of the way of our kind neighbour who was cutting our 2 foot high grass with his push mower.  My 3 little boys were running ahead of him trying to catch the frogs mid-air with their hands, to save them.

Of course, these are only a few species of frogs that inhabit this area of the planet.  I appreciate the multitude of frogs I share my life with who sing to me in melody.

Gray Treefrog

Gray Treefrog

Making Maple Syrup

Another year of maple syruping is behind me. The season was much shorter this year due to below normal temperatures in March – for tree sap to run, it requires daytime temperatures above 5 degrees celsius and nighttime temps below zero celsius (32F). It takes lots of liquid sap from maple trees to make maple syrup and the sap is frozen in the trees when temperatures are below freezing. Finally near the end of March, the outdoor temps started to rise above zero celsius in the daytime allowing the sap in the trees to unthaw. I tapped my maple trees in early April – you can read about it from a few years ago here – and started collecting maple sap in one gallon jugs.

Livi helping 2014

Livi helping 2013

Luckily I was still making fires inside in my wood cookstove because it was barely above freezing, so I could boil down the sap right there. Usually I get about 6 litres of sap every few days from my 3 tapped trees in the backyard – it looks just like water but it tastes a bit sweeter. I always drink a glass of the first sap that I collect as a ‘spring tonic’ as some native Canadians used to do . Six litres of sap fits in my largest stainless steel pot. I strain the maple sap through two coffee filters to get out the small bark chips and other organics .

straining sap

straining sap

It usually takes almost 2 days of simmering on top of the cookstove all day to boil down to syrup. From this whole 6 litre pot of sap, I get about a cup or so of pure maple syrup – that’s it! I don’t do anything fancy like check the temperature of the sap – I simply eyeball it to tell if it’s the consistency of thicker syrup.

2boilingdown
Once the sap has boiled down to maple syrup, I sterilize some small jam jars and their lids in boiling water for 10 minutes. As soon as I remove the jar from the boiling water, I pour the maple syrup into it. I dip a clean cloth into the boiling water and wipe off the rim of the jar before placing the hot lid fresh out of the water.

3jars

I end up with so few jars of finished maple syrup that I don’t get out my large canning pot to process it. I simply place the clean cloth in the bottom of a pot and put the 2 or 3 small sealed jars in the water and make sure that they stay covered with boiling water. I process them for 15 minutes after the water begins to boil again.

processing in boiling water

processing in boiling water

After removing the jars from the boiling water with my handy-dandy jar tongs, I let them sit on a cutting board to cool down. It’s a wonderful sound to hear that clear ‘pop’ when the lid seals itself.

Now the maple syrup is ready to be stored or eaten. In the past, I neglected the necessary part of the water bath process and ended up with moldy maple syrup even though I kept it in the fridge.

5finished

Homemade maple syrup from my own trees is incredibly delicious! I think it’s better than anyone else’s syrup. I had some right away on my French Toast for lunch.

homemade maple syrup on French Toast

homemade maple syrup on French Toast

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