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.

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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

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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.

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.

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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

Frostquake!

It’s been pretty cold lately. Abnormally cold. But then again, what is ‘normal’ anyway these days when it comes to weather with all the climate change going on – extreme weather in the summer with record-breaking heat and in the winter, polar vortexes every other week.

Freezing

At our house, when the temperature outdoors gets down to -30C or so, we get sudden BANGs which can shake the house. It’s a Frostquake or Cryoseism. I used to just  say it was frozen ground water expanding in the extreme cold, but now there’s a word for it. Living along the river, we have a fairly high water table. If there’s lots of rain in the fall, the ground becomes saturated, then freezes in the winter. We often heard them when skating on the frozen river.
Environment Canada meteorologist Geoff Coulson said the noise occurs when water filters into porous soil, freezes suddenly and becomes subject to shifting. “It’s like a low-grade earthquake,” he said. Yup, it shakes the house like an earthquake sometimes too.

Frost on the mudroom door

Frost on the mudroom door

I don’t like the cold anymore – it’s too………well, cold. I don’t drive to town on these really cold days – I wait for it to warm up a bit to just below freezing, every week or so. My faithful, 24 year old car with over 375,000 kms on it, doesn’t like going out in this kind of weather either. Instead I stay at home keeping the fire going in my cookstove or watching the birds or baking or making homemade dinners.  I don’t even have to go outside to get my firewood! I just walk through my unheated garage to the attached woodshed and bring it in. Oh, it’s just as cold as outside but it’s not technically outside – I still have to wear my winter coat especially if I’m splitting wood with my new electric 4 ton wood splitter that my two youngest kids got me for Christmas.

One thing good about the bitter cold outside is that I can get inside jobs accomplished. Like clearing out my cupboards of paperwork, deceased relatives dishes, clothes I never wear anymore, books/magazines I’ve read ….. you know simplifying my OWN life.

For now, I’ll keep feeding the birds beef suet and black oiled sunflower seeds and watch them eat while I wait for spring.

 

 

Bluejays on my apple tree *

Bluejays on my apple tree by Marty *

Beef Stew

Today was a fine day to make Beef Stew:  it was -20C on my outdoor thermometer when I woke up this morning at 6:30 a.m.

I’d actually planned to make it today anyway.  I’ve been saving my ‘potato water’ (water used to boil potatoes in) for several days now.  And we had a roast beef dinner a few days ago so I already had the leftover gravy, peas, and potatoes which I add.  I also bought some local beef to use, so I was all set this morning to begin.  I usually choose a big pot to make it in because by the time I add all the veggies and meat, it’s full!

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My wood cookstove was blazing away on this cold morning, so I made this stew on it, beginning at 8:30 a.m.  I find a long, slow cooking stew tastes great.

 

Beef Stew Recipe

Beef, stew beef or steak cut up into chunks or leftover roast beef.  The amount is up to you.

1/2 teaspoon olive oil or vegetable oil

1/2 celery, chopped

1/2 turnip, chopped into 1″ or so squares

2-3+ large carrots

1 onion

6+ potatoes, cut into 3″ chunks

leftover gravy, about 2 cups

Any leftover vegetables in your fridge

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

2+ liters water (or ‘potato water’), as needed

 

Cut up the beef into 2 inch chunks, unless you’re using stewing beef already cut up.  Add the oil to the pot with a little water, just enough to cover the bottom.  Cook the beef until browned.

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Add the uncooked celery, turnip, onion, and carrots.  Cover with the ‘potato water’ or water.  Add salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to barely simmering for 3-5 hours or more.    This is easy to do on my cookstove as I simply move the pot over to the side where it’s less hot.

One and a half hours before you want to eat, add the raw potatoes and any leftover cooked veggies from your fridge.  I find that if you add the potatoes at the beginning, they fall apart by suppertime, after stewing all day.

Fifteen minutes before eating, add the leftover gravy.  Stir well.  Let it heat up until it starts to bubble slightly.  If you find it way too runny, you can mix some flour (1/4 cup) in a jar with 1/2 cup of COLD water, shake really well until it’s mixed completely with no lumps. Then add it to the stew and stir completely, allowing it to come to a boil, stirring often.

It’s ready!  We love to eat our beef stew with lots of whole wheat bread smothered in butter.  Mmmmmm.

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Leftover stew is even better the next day!  Which is why I always start out with a big pot.  You can eat it for supper again or have it for lunch.  It never goes to waste around here – I think our poor dog Yukon wishes there was more left over for him.

 

 

 

 

Snow Day!

 

Last night, we went from green grass to this:
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Overnight we received 23 cms (9.5 inches) of heavy snow that clings to branches, weighing them down…… but also makes the best packing snow for making snowmen!

One of the best benefits of a large snowfall is the probability of a ‘snow day’ for school children.  Most children in our area take the school bus to school so when we get a lot of snow, the school board cancels the buses for safety reasons.  Many rural roads don’t get plowed by 6:30 a.m. when the buses begin picking up kids.

Today, I was lucky to have my 2 granddaughters, Kalia and Livi, spend their ‘snow day’ with us.  Snow always puts us in the Christmas spirit so we chose a few videos to watch:  The Santa Clause and Home Alone.

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Halfway through the first movie, Uncle Taylor suggested that they go outside and make a snowman.  By the time the girls got their snowsuits on, Taylor had rolled a huge ball of snow for the base.  Two more big snow balls, 2 branch-arms, a carrot nose, and stones for eyes and a mouth and 6 foot ‘Albert Einstein’ was complete.  Then they built a ‘snow couch’ to sit on and admire him ……. and just in case Auntie Nellie wanted to come outdoors.

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Last week, I phoned my plow man and asked him to drop off a quote for this winter’s snowplowing of my driveway.  He didn’t get around to it and I haven’t even paid him yet, but he came this morning anyway to plow out my driveway.  That’s country courtesy for you!

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So now the outside fun is done and we’re indoors drinking hot cocoa and watching the other movie while the wet snowsuits dry by the wood cookstove.

And we still might get another 10 cms of snow in the next day……

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First Fire

Today I made my first fire this fall season in my wood cookstove.  It was -10C (14 F) outside when I woke up so I figured it was about time……  The pellet stove downstairs has already been burning for almost two weeks.

First Fire

First Fire

Last week I spent an afternoon finally cleaning out the soot from the chimmney sweeping (thanks Darin!) – a bad wind storm was forecast and you never know when the power is going to go out.  I took out all the burners to clean the soot off the inside, scraped the soot off  around the oven, washed all the nickle plating and enamel, emptied the ash bucket, then wiped a coat of olive oil on the cast iron cooktop.  I dusted the Ecofans, kettles and put fresh water in the hot water reservoir.  My arms were black and I needed a shower badly when I was done!  But my ‘Sweetheart’ looked brand new.  I didn’t need to replace any gaskets this year but I did need to repair with stove cement a couple of cracks in the large firebricks inside the firebox.  They cured for the weekend and today I tested it out by burning the papers (old bills and receipts) that I had been accumulating in the upper warming oven all summer long.  Even that small amount of burning paper created a welcome heat.

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After walking the dog, I went straight to the woodshed to grab a box of wood to make a fire.   Of course, then I had to make soup.  I boiled up some chicken bones I had been storing in the freezer to make the broth then added some leftovers.  I went outside and dug up some Thyme and planted it in a pot to bring inside for the winter.  My recipe for Chicken Soup is here.

making soup

making soup

The soup is simmering on the back of the cookstove and the kettle is on for a tea.   Ahhhh, my day is done……….. okay, well not yet.  But I’m enjoying the warm-fuzzy feeling that a wood fire wraps around my entire home.

 

 

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