Candied Squash

I love squash. My favourites are the winter types like Acorn, Butternut, and Buttercup but my overall, hands-down best is Butternut. During the summer, I like to BBQ sliced Zucchini squash brushed with my homemade Italian salad dressing.
I’ve roasted Butternut squash halves in my oven while I cook dinner. I’ve also made a yummy Curried Squash Soup (recipe here) that my DIL Jeanette introduced me to. Lately though, I’ve been craving for squash nearly every day – it’s probably due to my body’s need for more squash-specific nutrition. Afterall, squash is the new Superfood. It contains a huge amount of vitamins A, C, E, B6, B2, B3, K, niacin, thiamin, manganese, copper, potassium, pantothenic acid, folate, omega 3 fats, magnesium, and fiber.

homegrown squash

Organic Homegrown Squash

I grow squash in my garden or purchase locally grown produce in the fall – one of the best things about squash is that it’s locally grown and available all winter long. It’s not suprising why North American Natives grew “the three sisters”, corn, squash, and beans as a dietary staple. I store it every fall in my mudroom in a basket on the floor. It’s pretty cool in there all winter and I know squash probably doesn’t like it THAT cool (45F degrees/7C) but they seem to be just fine. It’s easy to cut off a hunk from the neck or half a squash and cook it randomly inside the oven of my wood cookstove.
I decided to add a little zest to my squash and now this has become my favourite! I call it Candied Squash.  It’s not really candy but it might as well be to me!   Here’s the recipe:

1WM

 
Candied Squash Recipe

1/2 butternut squash or the neck of a butternut squash
Butter – please, please do NOT use margarine (a bucket of chemicals)
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
cinnamon
Scoop out any seeds inside the squash half you are using. I cover the open end of the other piece with a leftover plastic bag and put it back in storage with the rest.
Slice into one inch pieces. Peel off the outer skin. Cut into one inch cubes.

2WM

Butter lightly a baking dish or piece of tin foil. Put in the squash. Add 4-5 small pieces of butter on top. Sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. Cover or wrap the tinfoil to completely cover it.

3WM

Bake for at least an hour at 325F degrees. I left mine in the cookstove yesterday for 4 hours because I forgot about it and it was deliciously ‘well-done’!
I usually simply pour it into a bowl and eat. Sometimes, if I’ve planned ahead, I add it as a side to my dinner meal.
I hope you enjoy this recipe and discover that squash tastes as good as it looks.

4WM

The Link

I’ve been blessed with many, many cousins – hundreds probably! The vast majority of them are on my Mother’s side – down home cousins like Maureen and Carolyn; Montreal cousins; second cousins; second cousins twice removed; and even newly found cousins in the USA. But there is one cousin on my Dad’s side that has always been near and dear to my heart – Graham. Until the last few years, Graham had been my only paternal cousin that I ever knew and it’s all because of the special link that our mothers shared.
My father and Graham’s father were brothers. They both served in World War ll. My parents grew up in the same small town on the Gaspe coast and married after the war. It’s my understanding that Graham’s parents met during WWll in London, England and were married. So how did our Mothers ever meet and become friends? After the war, when Graham was a baby, my Aunt and Uncle moved back to his hometown where our Mothers met and became lifelong friends. Then both families moved on separately. My parents and oldest sister Faye, moved to Ontario where they would make a life. Graham’s family moved to Montreal briefly until Graham and his Mother moved back to England. That could have been the end of that. But that true friendship between our Mothers endured.

Our Paternal Grandmother and Aunt

L-R:  Our paternal Grandmother and our Aunt 1945

I remember the packages that arrived for my Mother from Auntie Ivy in England, when I was a child. I recall the smell of the paper that the magazines she sent were rolled in. Our Mothers always wrote to each other sharing who knows what but certainly telling each other news about their offspring. I saw my cousin Graham grow up in only a few photographs his Mother sent us.
After my mother passed away when she was only 45 years old in 1975, I began sending my Auntie Ivy Christmas cards every year to stay in touch. When we went to London, England in 1977, I arranged a visit with my Aunt and Graham, now grown up and married with two children. We met in Hyde Park then took a taxi to a museum, which was closed. The meet-up was short but sweet and I finally got to meet my cousin Graham in person! Auntie Ivy came to Canada for a visit in 1981 just before we moved but she stayed with us for a few days anyway.
Life went on as usual – Christmas cards every years exchanged updates on family life. Then one year, I received my Christmas card back stamped ‘deceased’. I was quite upset with myself for not getting Graham and Valerie’s address – how was I ever going to find them now?
One sunny, summer afternoon a few years ago, I received a phone call from Graham in England – he had found my phone number in his mother’s papers and hoped that I still had the same number. Hurray!! We were back in touch. After a long conversation, we exchanged emails and the promise to visit me in Canada. The next year, Graham and Valerie came to stay with me and travelled down east to our family’s hometown where he briefly lived as a baby. My sister Faye also came to stay for this impromptu family reunion.

Visiting National War Museum

Visiting the National War Museum:  Graham, Me, Valerie, Faye

Graham and Valerie have made a few trips to Canada to visit with me in recent years. We’ve enjoyed each other’s company – day trips to the War Museum or the Rideau Canal locks or just watching TV at night. In 2012, we met up in Florida when we were both there with our families at the same time visiting Disneyworld! We hadn’t actually planned it that way, but it was fortuitous. One of these years, I’m going to visit them again in England.
I am SO grateful to both our Mothers who, despite being separated by an ocean for decades, managed to remain close and keep in touch with each other. Their gift to both Graham and myself, was that lifelong link of family.

My Cancer Journey

I have skin cancer – a type called basal cell carcinoma.
I want to share my experience right from the beginning through my blog. Don’t worry, it won’t dominate this blog – there are recipes to share and other experiences to write about. Cancer does not define me. I won’t let it. It’s part of my whole life journey. It’s part of me. I own it.
One might think, whew, it’s only skin cancer….. good thing it’s not a more serious cancer. Cancer is cancer. Those mutant cells have now been identified in my body. I AM grateful that basal cell carcinoma has a very good success rate of treatment and survival rate of 95% at five years.
This kind of skin cancer is attributed to UV rays from sun exposure or tanning beds (which I’ve never used). Some scientists say that the sun’s rays were doing their damage decades ago unbeknownst to me. When I was a kid in the 1950s , we practically LIVED outside, summer and winter. Sunscreen hadn’t been invented yet and climate change wasn’t recognized. We played outside in the summer wearing as few clothes as possible with our bodies becoming browner as the summer progressed.

DaisyWM
I felt suspicious about a few spots on my face several years ago so I went to my former family Doctor. He thought they were insigificant, cosmetic spots and proceeded to do a freezing-like treatment on each one – it’s called Cryosurgery which uses liquid nitrogen to destroy the pre-cancerous cells. It didn’t help. I changed physicians to a young woman who was only 4 minutes from home – I ‘interviewed’ her and decided she was easy to communicate with, up-to-date on the latest research, and had no problem with addressing each other by our first names. Last year, I showed her my little ‘spots of concern’ on my face and asked for a dermatologist appointment to get them checked out. She suggested that first we try the freezing treatment (again). After a month, it was clear that it didn’t work (again) so a referral was made to a dermatologist. My concerns centered around one particular area on my upper lip which bled off-and-on and never healed completely. It looked almost like a roundish scar, but I had never been cut there. And it was growing in size.
Finally, my dermatologist appointment arrived after 8 months of waiting – I could have gone earlier into the city but I didn’t want to drive there as parking is a nightmare. The Doc walked in and introduced herself and her collegue, asking for my permission that he be there. She walked up to me sitting on the examining table half dressed and stated matter-of-factly “I see you have skin cancer”. Just like that. A family doctor couldn’t identify a suspicious skin anomaly? Anyone can ‘google’ my symptoms and get a probable answer. She checked me over but was focused on that one spot. She thought that it was a large basal cell carcinoma. Her and her collegue talked about various treatments and even called in the plastic surgeon from the clinic next door. They all agreed that Mohs surgery was called for: basically, at the Ottawa Hospital I will be under local anesthetic and the surgeon will scrape away layers of the cancer, testing it after each layer until no cancer remains. It’s quite successful for the treatment of this kind of cancer. The surgery will likely be in about 3 months.
While I was there, the dermatologist did a biopsy by injecting freezing into my upper lip and removing a portion of the cancer with a scalpel to send off to the lab for confirmation. I had no problem looking at the needle with freezing going in but when I saw her coming close to my face with the scalpel, I thought to myself “it’s okay to close your eyes now” hehehe. Then she proceeded to cauterize the area, which hurt because some of it had no freezing. I said that I shouldn’t be such a baby since I gave birth to seven children without as much as an aspirin for the pain.
She talked about sunscreen… calling for biopsy results in 3 weeks… the surgeon’s name… Mohs surgery… reconstruction…. and other things and I was worried that I wouldn’t remember it all. Then she handed me a sheet of paper where she kindly wrote it all down.
I’ve been thinking alot about being outside and gardening this summer and driving with the sun pouring through the window and forgetting to lather on my 60 SPF sunscreen and a whole lot of other things that never concerned me before.
Biopsy results confirmed basal cell carcinoma.
Let the journey begin

8wm

Woodstove Surprise

Yesterday, I did my mid-winter cleaning out of my wood cookstove. I had planned it for then because the outside temperatures were predicted to be about +5C (41F). The stove and ashes need to be cold when I clean it out – the last log went in around 4 p.m. the night before. This mid-winter cleaning means that I scrape off the soot and ash that has accumulates under the burner plates and around the oven box inside the stove. Let me explain how a wood cookstove works: when the stove damper is open, the smoke goes out of the firebox straight up the chimney. When I close the damper, the smoke circulates around the oven box, which sits below the cast iron burners ,and exits the stove at the bottom/back and up the chimney thereby warming the oven and in fact the entire stove.
All this burning season, I’ve had trouble with smoke escaping through the loading door when the damper was closed. I’ve had to resolve this problem by only half closing the damper. I had planned on replacing the door gasket to hopefully tighten the seal. Everything began normally: I was dressed in my ‘work’ clothes ready for this usual black sooty chore. This time I decided to wear vinyl gloves to help keep my hands from getting black.

SootYuckWM

Soot under the burner plate

 

I scraped the backsides of each burner as I removed them and placed them on newspaper on the table. Then I began the ritual of scraping off the oven accessible via the burner holes. When I got to the side, I thought something was amiss. I scraped dutifully and began to remove the soot through the clean-out ‘nameplate’ access but not as much was coming out as I thought there should be. I grabbed my flashlight and took a look – it looked like soot as far as my poor vision could see and I couldn’t understand why. It was time for an investigation! I placed my portable barbaque light to see down the 2 inch side of the oven. This BBQ light is awesome! I keep it on top of the warming oven of my cookstove – it has a magnetic bottom so it sticks to the steel and cast iron surfaces of my stove. The light is connected to a flexible neck that I can position however I like. I often use it to quickly check how something is cooking on the stove. Anyway, when I had it positioned to shine down the side of the oven box, I took a look through the bottom clean-out expecting to see light shining through – but only darkness. Hmmm, it’s plugged. I wasn’t sure why but I was determined to find out. It certainly explained all the smoke leaking out of the loading door when the damper was closed. For the next hour, I scraped and stabbed at the soot at the bottom side of the oven box. I even went out to the garage to get reinforcements: a giant screwdriver that was about 30 inches long! Thanks Chris.

burnersWM

I discovered that rock-hard ash and soot had compressed to form solid chunks all along the bottom of this side of the oven box. It was an impossible (almost) space to work in but I kept at it until finally a chunk broke loose! I used the scraper to carefully pull it up to where I could reach it, dropping in many times before I could grab it and force it out through the burner hole. I had to use the giant screwdriver to break them into smaller pieces that would fit up the side to be removed. It was extremely hard. I used the shopvac to suck up some of the stoney soot too. After 2 hours, I was done!

SootchunksWM

Soot chunks

I put the burners back in and wiped them down with olive oil on a cloth. To give it one final sparkle, I washed the rest of the cookstove and dried it. Voila! It looked like new. Unlike myself, who was black from head to toe! It’s a good thing I have two tanks of solar-heated hot water. I vacuumed up the floor and washed the four feel around it until tomorrow when I can wash the pine floors in the whole room.
Heating with wood is not for the faint of heart. Oh sure, visions of a nice, warm, cozy fire dance through your head. But you need to know that any wood stove requires regular, messy maintenance to burn efficiently and safely. Wood heat might be for tree-hugging (carbon neutral) lovers of the environment …….. ah, like me I guess.

100_2340

Clean and ready to burn

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