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

Sure Signs of Spring

Spring has arrived late this year but there are some sure signs of Spring.  The temperature started climbing above 0 degrees celsius last week and FINALLY the snow started to melt!  In a matter of a couple of days, most of the snow in the front and back yards has melted leaving puddles.  There is still a big drift down by the shed but it’s much smaller now.  I can even walk down to the river even though most of the ground isn’t frozen any longer but more like a sponge.  It’s rubber boots time!
In my excitement, I decided that it was time to change my winter-ravaged, torn and shredded Canadian flag down at the beach, now that I could get to it.  I happened to choose a very windy day but I got the job done and now my new flag stands as a sentry along the water…….. and I can tell which way the wind is blowing.

River
And the river started to break up!  Most years, the ice has already broken up and floated down river by now but this year it’s taken until now to begin.  I noticed first that the channel in the middle of the river had a small slit of glittering water – this is the first to melt with the flow of water.  Then the next day, their was a sliver of water along the edge of the riverbank which was open.  During the windy days, the whole ice floe completely moved away from our riverbank to near the channel leaving a substantial stretch of water.  Best of all, my ‘lake of shining waters’ is back!  This is the sparkly, glittering water reflecting the sunrise.  I love it.
The Canada Geese and other migratory birds started arriving back last week.  Thankfully the Robins can now find food since most of the snow has melted.  The Geese, Loons, and Seagulls can land in the water and even stand on the ice floe.  I’ve also seen my ‘friend’ the Great Blue Heron flying down along the water, Pterodactyl-looking.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb

On my way back up the yard, I noticed the rhubarb starting to poke through the ground.  The daylillies too! The grass is even greening up under all those leaves I left on the ground.  This year, I’m beginning my ‘shoreline restoration project’ where I will start to let the river’s edge go back to it’s original state rather than cutting most of my grass right to the water’s edge.  It will be better for the environment, plants, and animals who live here too.

Another important yet unpleasant job is scooping the dog poop in the back yard.  My elderly dog Yukon died in mid-February but there was still a season of his poo under all the snow.  I almost got the whole job done while reminiscing about Yukon’s years here but I found tears in my eyes near the end.

The maple sap has been flowing from my tapped maple trees for nearly two weeks now.  It did slow down to a near stop when the weather turned very cold but it’s now flowing steadily.  I’ve been boiling the sap on my wood cookstove to make maple syrup – not much because it takes about 6 litres of sap to make about half a cup of pure maple syrup.  But since I’ve been making a fire anyway, there’s no harm in boiling the sap down on my cookstove.
One important sure sign of Spring is the sound of my sump pump.  It’s strange, but I certainly like hearing that on-and-off again humming noise because it means that the ground water around and under my house is being pumped away so I don’t flood.
What better way to welcome the warm spring winds than hanging laundry outside!  There’s nothing that soothes my visual soul more than the sight of laundry drying on my clothesline.  This week the temperatures are supposed to be above normal so all the comforters and blankets on the beds and floor mats will get washed and hung outside to dry.  Nature’s sweet, fresh smell lasts for days.

Sunning
Most days, our cat is sunning himself whenever he’s not ‘chasing’ squirrels at the windows from inside the house.  I find myself instinctively cleaning out closets these days.  I can’t understand why I’ve kept papers from 20+ years ago so some of them were recycled and others are in a burn pile.  Bookshelves are not immune either so any of my children who have left their books still on Mom’s shelves, let me know if you want any of them or they’re off to the book re-sellers.
As spring slowly gives way to the warmer temperatures near summer, another Canadian tradition begins: National Hockey League hockey play-offs.  There have been times when we’ve watched NHL play-offs on a TV outside on the deck while basking in temperatures in the 30C degrees.  Let the play-offs begin because this year my team is in the play-offs!  Go Sens Go!!

My Lake of Shining Waters

My Lake of Shining Waters

Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

This time of year, there are a lot of chocolate treats going around. My children used to love hunting for chocolate goodies all over the house. It was especially funny when they’d discover an unfound treat months later in a puzzle or under a couch cushion or when they opened up the dining room table to add the leaves.
Rather than give candy to my family now, I make these special ‘cookies’ to eat. Like many of my deserts for special occassions, these macaroons are very nutritious……..sort of. They have something from every food group – 1. Fruit: coconut & cocoa; 2. Meat/Alternatives: milk & butter; 3. Carbs: oatmeal; 4. Fats/Oils/Sugar: butter & sugar. Well, it could be a meal in itself! It IS if I say so – my house, my rules. Okay, not quite.
I’d like to share the recipe that my sister Betty originally gave to me for Chocolate Coconut Macaroons  – makes about 3 dozen.

Chocolate Coconut Macaroons Recipe
cooking macaroonsCombine in a large pot, mix well & bring to a boil:
1/2 cup Milk
1/2 cup Butter
4 heaping Tablespoons Cocoa
2 cups Sugar (ya I know, my bad)

Remove from heat and add:
1 teaspoon Vanilla
pinch of salt
Combine these two ahead of time and have them waiting in a bowl to add:
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
2 cups rolled oats (uncooked oatmeal)

Mix well. Spoon quickly onto a cookie sheet covered with parchment or wax paper. Let sit until firm or cool.

Macaroon
Share.
Eat in moderation.
Enjoy.

The Real Price of Cheaper Oil

 

Recently, oil prices have taken a nosedive.  The price of a barrel of oil is half of what it was only 6 months ago.  I have ambivalent feelings about this when I think of the impact at the moment and in the future.

I like the lower price of gasoline as much as the next person.  Yesterday I topped up my gas tank, which I do when it gets to about half (a good practice in this frozen country).  It was only $15 and change!  A few short months ago it would have cost me $23 or so!  My pocketbook likes that.  Does that mean that I can afford to galavant all over the countryside just because it’s cheaper?  No, I don’t think so.  Why would I want to spew more polluting carbons into the atmosphere?

But I’m hoping, I’m REALLY hoping that the lower price of a barrel of oil will impact the production of oil in Canada.  Yes, OPEC – 1, Canada -0.  In fact, it already has.  The giant (mostly foreign owned) oil producers have already cut back, way back on production.  The ripple effect is being felt in the entire industry.  Unfortunately, those people who work in this oil industry are paying the price with losing their jobs.  I feel really sorry about that.   I know someone has to “take one for the team” and the “little guy” is it.

EEBeaversWM

photo by Marty

 

Something near and dear to my heart is the opposition to the Energy East Pipeline which is proposed to run from the Alberta oil sands across the county, right past my home (a couple kilometers away, and through the river that my home sits beside), to the east coast where it will be shipped overseas.  The plummet in the oil prices might be the death knell to the Energy East Pipeline project proposal because it may not be profitable.  Yeah!

With the cheap price of gasoline in North America now, does that mean that people will buy bigger vehicles (SUVs) and drive like there’s no tomorrow?  The sale of SUVs has never been more robust.  This is bad news for our environment.  With more carbons being spewed into the atmosphere, climate change will proceed more rapidly and we can expect more extreme weather.

There’s not much I can do about anything.  In fact, I can’t do a single thing about the price of a barrel of oil or Alberta oil or the Energy East pipeline or the increased production of SUVs.  I can simply choose to continue to respect our environment, drive my old Honda as little as possible, and use less oil products.

EEWM

Winter – Extended Edition

 

This week we celebrated the end of winter and the arrival of spring – officially anyway.  It’s hard to believe that ‘spring has sprung’ though.  This morning at 7 a.m., my outdoor thermometer read -20C degrees and the weatherman said it was going to reach a high of -8C.  Whoopie…..not.

Dripping Icicle

Dripping Icicle

There is still about 30-40 cms of snow in many spots around the property and 4 foot drifts.  We had finally been experiencing warmer, near normal, temperatures last week after the record-breaking coldest winter ever.  The snow began melting off the roof with 2 foot long dripping icicles hanging down.  The temperature was above zero during the day and below zero degrees celsius at night – perfect for maple sap running.  So last week, I tapped my maple trees to collect the sap for making maple syrup.  Now the little brother of the Polar Vortex has come calling and the sap has stopped running and the maple sap in frozen in the bottom of my jugs hanging on the trees!
My sister Betty shared photos over a month ago of temperate Vancouver Island, British Columbia where she lives: cherry tree blossoms, crocuses blooming, lush green grass.  The seasons here in Ontario seem to becoming 2+ weeks later.  What used to happen 30 years ago at this time of year, like the ice on the river breaking up, is later now.  The cold temperatures of January and February are now the bitter, unrelenting cold temperatures of February and March.

CrocusWM
The only thing to do is embrace the sunny albiet cold days with the promise that warmer days are just ahead. Soon we’ll be living with hot, humid weather and lots of mosquitoes!
The one thing that remains the same is that we celebrate my sister Betty’s birthday on the first full day of spring.  Happy Birthday Bet!

I Love Photos

 

I love taking pictures. I always have – I’ve been taking pictures for over 50 years. You’ve probably already noticed that I love to include lots of pictures in my blog.

OldCamerasWM
The very first photo I ever recall was a picture taken of me when I was 2 years old. I still have that picture. Back in the ’50s, photos were reserved for special occassions like weddings or vacations. Luckily my parents took photos of our every day lives as well so now I have cherished visual memories of those times. I can jog my memory by looking at pictures of skating and tobogganing in our backyard, Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Hamilton, down home, camping, etc.

 

1stAlbumWM

 

One of the first photos I took was of my pet turtles, Sam and Touché. I felt lucky that my Mom let me use the camera to capture those little reptiles that I loved. It didn’t stop there. I began to put those photos in my first photo album entitled “My Pets” which included pictures of our fish, turtles, dog, cats, cows, pigs, and horses (from down home). All photo albums back in the day were black “almost-legal-sized” pages of heavy construction-like paper. The photo collector would then place their photos on these pages with these little corners or tape or glue. I often wrote what the photo was about with a white crayon or coloured pencil – thank goodness because I would never have remembered all those pictures! I glued those pictures in my first album and they are still intact today. My second album was a compilation of my parents photos from my childhood and my own photos up until I got married. I used scotch tape to ‘secure’ these pictures in place but most of them have now fallen out. It will be another ‘retirement project’ for me to re-install all those pictures on their spots. Many of them I’ll remember where they go based on the white caption under the blank spot but others I’ll just have to guess at. Sadly, some of my pictures were damaged during a flood we had in the basement in the early 1980s.

TurtlesWM
Many albums have followed. I think I was inspired by my dear mother-in-law Florence who was an avid photographer and had dozens of photo albums, one for each year. Every time we would go to her house, I would get out the latest album and look at the pictures she took. I derived great pleasure from looking at all those photos and it’s one of my most cherished memories. Now I have dozens of photo albums for my children and grandchildren to look at. I have to admit that I have some work ahead of me in organizing the last few years of pictures – thousands of pictures. They are all stored on my computer and backed up on my external hard drive. I have to look through them and choose 200 for each of the last 3 years to be emailed to the photo lab to be printed off, then placed in each album. I prefer to look at an actual picture in a photo album than one on the computer. In addition, I want to reorganize my 1970s and 1980s albums which were haphazardly placed in recycled 3 ring binders. And of course, reinserting all those pictures that have fallen out of my original albums……

AlbumsWM
I love taking photos too. Who can resist capturing a lifetime in photographs.  Before I snap the picture, I look through my lens at the background as well as the image I want to capture. I really love to take scenery pictures with my family in them. I don’t own a big fancy camera, just an inexpensive 14 megapixel Kodak. It suits me for now because it fits right in my pocket or purse which is great when I’m travelling or simply in the yard. I have been considering learning more from my grown children about those fancy cameras that they use, where you can adjust the focus and all kinds of stuff. And speaking of my children, most of them are talented photographers themselves. Many road trips have required sudden pit stops to take a photo. But I believe that my family respects the art of picture taking and finds comfort in looking at pictures that are taken by different family members.
Photographs are a ‘trip’ in themselves: I don’t have to go to Bali or hike to the top of a British Columbia glacier because my children share their adventures with me through their photos. And I love that.

Tofino, B.C.

Tofino, B.C.

 

 

 

International Women’s Day

 

Today I celebrate International Women’s Day.  I honour all the women who are part of my life and I pay tribute to all the women who have influenced me in the past.  Some of these women include:

First and foremost, My Mom

My sisters Betty and Faye

My daughters Kristi and Nellie

My granddaughters Kalia, Olivia, J & H

My daughters-in-law Amanda, Jeannette, and Nici

My Grandmother “Mom”

My nieces Brodie, Jennifer, Kari, Kathryn, Terri, Melissa, Meg, Kate, Emily, Dana

All my darling cousins like Maureen, Carolyn, Verna, Dale, Jacklyn and all the rest – and their daughters and granddaughters

My sisters-in-law Janet, Cheryl, Amanda, Penny, Wanda, Debbie, Lynda, Wendy, Mimi, Holly

All my Aunts

My long-time friend Kristi

Cherished friends Sharon, Aleta, Andrea

My mother-in-law Florence

Lil

Good neighbours

High school friends who have reconnected

Wise women like Elsie Cressman, Ina May Gaskin, Margaret Mead, and Marian Thompson.

My friends in La Leche League and all the mothers I’ve been honoured to help over the years.

The women I assisted with the births of their babies while I was a Midwife – and all those baby girls, many of them now adults themselves

The women around the world who I will never even meet who have impacted my thoughts and actions over the years.

I apologize if I haven’t mentioned any lady in particular who has been part of my life.  You are still important to me.

Mum

 

 

 

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