Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Redstone Lake

The Main Cottage
CC and I are very fortunate to have friends who have a cottage on an island on Redstone Lake, and were even more fortunate to have had an invitation to stay with them this past weekend. We both needed an escape from G-town, not having had a vacation this year.  It was a restful weekend with lots of food, drink and great company.  I spent a lot of time in the water and CC spent a lot of time sleeping.  It was a bit cool and overcast, but the air and scenery were perfect for recharging our batteries.


There are are two outbuildings for guests to stay in, so we had some privacy, much needed for CC's many naps! I'm not much of a napper, myself, so I spent my time swimming and walking around the island (it only takes about 15 minutes).  I took lots of pictures as there are many good photo-ops available.



Although it was cloudy and cool on our first day, there was a lovely sunset that night.





After a restful night's sleep, we made our way to the main cabin and had breakfast. The day was even more overcast, and there was quite a bit of rain throughout the day, but at least we had expansive vistas to look at and the air was incredible. There was also lots of good food and conversation to keep us occupied.  I took the opportunity to explore the island in more detail when the chance arose and was especially interested in the plant-life that ekes out an existence on seemingly barren landscapes.




The next day was much the same to start with, but then we happily spotted a thin blue line of sky on the horizon and prayed to all the gods we could think of to reward us with some sunshine. The water was quite frigid, but once I was in for a while, moving constantly, it didn't feel at all bad. Getting out was, shall we say, refreshing, especially when the wind blew in.


What I couldn't get over was the many interesting colours and textures of the live and fallen trees.  Their importance to the environment is evident when you get a good look at the multitudes of lifeforms that they support.  Even as driftwood, trees belie a beauty that is hard to match.





Well, the gods must have been happy with us and our sacrifices (kidding!), because we were rewarded with an afternoon of glorious, Vitamin D-providing, soul-warming sunshine, and took full advantage of  being outside, in the water and on the water.






Even a mother dock spider decided it was time to sun herself on the rocks while her many spiderlings hatched and clustered in a dense web-cum-nursery.


We had another extraordinary sunset for our last night, and were feeling sad that we would be heading home the next morning.



We were up bright and early the next morning and I took a final tour around the island with my camera to catch the rising sun and the mists on the water.





I then had a quick dip to wash away the night's sleepiness.  The sun had not yet come around onto the diving rocks, so my feet were in for a chilly surprise when I exited the lake!  We had a big bacon-and-eggs fry-up for breakfast, packed up our things and got a boat-ride to the mainland and headed back to G-town.  It looked like it was going to be another beautiful day, so we were sad to leave, but thankful we got a chance to enjoy our time with our friends and their hospitality.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

More JellyPegs!

Even though the local farmer's market had more red and black currants for sale this weekend, I decided to try something different.  We have quite a few Missourian Gooseberry shrubs growing in our garden, and this year was a bumper crop for the fruit.  Normally, they are just left for the birds and other critters to enjoy, but I decided why not use them to make a small batch of homegrown, home-made jelly.  I was also going to use some Pineapple Mint from the garden to give it a flavour boost, but "Pineapple Mint" is a misnomer - I tasted neither mint, nor pineapple.  "Cat-pee Greens" would probably be a more appropriate name, and no, I have never tasted cat pee, but I can only imagine. Glad I tried some before adding to the jelly.  The one thing about picking your own is that the shrubs are covered with many long and short thorns, so I came up with a system to avoid pricking myself.  I would find a long branch with lots of fruit on it, hold it vertical by the end, and just grab the berries one by one.  It was surprisingly efficient. I picked a mixture of very ripe, somewhat ripe and green Gooseberries, so I would have a good mix of pectin, acid and sugar, and basically followed the same recipe from last weekend. The colour and taste was beautiful, but it took a long time to jell, and is still quite runny, so if I do it again, I will be sure to add more green fruit (more pectin) and boil it longer.


Missourian Gooseberries, in the wild, i.e. the garden.
Beware of thorns,  just under the leaves!
Double, double, toil and trouble.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Vinyl

Over the years, I have moved my collection of records with me, even though I haven't had a stereo system for some years. The collection includes Classical (some from my parents collection), Jazz and a lot of LPs and EPs (remember them?) from the eighties. When I moved to G-town, they ended up on shelves in the basement gathering dust and probably mildew (emphasis on the "ew").  Yesterday, I was visiting a friend, KJ, who had recently purchased a small, inexpensive turntable, and I knew I had to have one!  Well, today, after work, I purchased it from a favourite, local store downtown.  The great thing about it is that it folds up into a mini suitcase, so is easy for transporting and setting up.

Ready to set up.
In action.
Once I got it home and set it up in the kitchen, I went down into the musty basement, moved some furniture around to get access to my records, and picked out a few for the inaugural run. The following, in order, are what I played…




They were a little warped in places, which gave them an interesting sound, but memories of vinyl flooded back, and CC and I had a great time listening to some oldies but goldies. On my second perusal of records to play, I found all my Classical records and even found a 78 I didn't know I had.  Luckily, the record player had a switch to enable playing 45, 33 or 78 rpm! The sound of a scratchy version of the Overture to the Flying Dutchman filled the house and made me wonder how long it had been since a needle had touched those grooves. Although the record was in a plain, brown wrapper, it was on the His Master's Voice label and was pressed in England. My dad, who recently moved, has promised me some of his old 78s that he bought in the 40's and 50's, and I can't wait to give them a spin.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Jelly Time!

I did a similar post last year when the red currants and black currants were in season, and thought I'd do  another one this year with some instructions in case anyone wanted to try their hand at the art of jelly making.  The first step is getting the fruit.  We have a terrific, local farmer's market in G-town on Saturdays, so I know the fruit is fresh, very important in the process.  I bought two quarts of Black Currants, two quarts of Red Currants and two pints of gooseberries.  As a child/young adult, my mother grew Gooseberry bushes in our garden, so I have a particular fondness for them, but they are difficult to find, so I jumped at the chance to get them.

Red Currants washed and ready for boiling.

Gooseberries freshly washed.
Because Jellies remind me of my mother and England, I used a recipe from one of her old cookbooks, "Practical Cookery for All".  It doesn't have a date inside, but I figure it's from the late 50's or early 60's due to the retro photos of the food and decorations.  THAT will definitely have to be in another blog post. Stay tuned.

I used this recipe, more or less, for all three Jellies
Home-made jelly is basically fresh fruit and sugar boiled together. The important thing to remember is that it needs to jell or set, otherwise, you're making sauce. The jelling depends on the presence of pectin, a natural gum-like substance contained in the fruit, and acid. The amount of pectin and acid differs amongst fruit and depends on the degree of ripeness - acid decreases as fruit ripens and natural sugars increase.  The amount of pectin is greatest when fruit is just ripe.  Okay, so enough science, and on to the fun part.

Black Currant mash giving up its juice.

Red Currant mash in fine sieve.

Red Currant juice coming out of the jelly bag.
I washed the fruit in a stainless steel colander in the sink and picked out all the rotten fruit, bugs (one stink bug and two Asian beetles, may they rest in pieces) and leaves.  Leave the stalks as they are easy to remove later on.  Don't worry about drying the fruit off, just dump it all into a large, roomy pot (I never use a preserving pan), add the appropriate amount of water and slowly bring up to a boil. Once the fruit starts to "pop", I use an old-school potato-masher to get a nice slurry out of it.  At this point, your kitchen will be filled with the aroma of summer. I have two methods for extracting the juice from the pulp.  One is using a conical-shaped, very fine sieve over a saucepan, and the other requires a linen jelly bag, an elastic band and a deep, Mexican glass pitcher (sounds like the start of a joke, no?). The jelly bag can be blocked more easily, so I ladle out as much pure juice from the mash into that before I add the more fibrous part.  The fine sieve was an experiment and seemed to work just fine.  You don't want any solids in the juice as it can effect the clarity of the jelly.  Also, pushing down on the fruit is inadvisable as it also affects clarity.  Let gravity do its thing for a couple of hours, then measure the amount of juice extracted.

Two cups, which equals one pint.
Black Currant juice remnants - VERY sour, needs sugar!
At this point, I prepare the mason jars for canning.  I like the 125 mL size as they make great gifts, but I also get the wide-rimmed 250 mL jars as they have a great shape and look to them.  I just set up a large pot of water to boil, add the glass jars, let them boil for 10-15 minutes, then dry them in a baking dish in the oven, set at 250 C. Once the jars are in the oven, I add the lids to the boiling water and turn off the heat. Bring the measured fruit juice to a gentle boil, add the required amount of sugar, and boil rapidly for the required time. If any scum forms on the surface, skim it off, unless of course, you like scum. I don't prefer it myself. I find the Black Currant juice is thicker and requires less boiling, say 10-15 minutes, whereas the Red Currant juice is more watery and requires longer boiling.  To give you and idea, 2 quarts of Black Currants yielded 2 cups of juice, but 2 quarts of Red Currants yielded 3 1/2 cups of juice. To test for jelling, add a few drops of the molten, sugared juice (care is required here!) to a teaspoon and put it in the refrigerator. After 5 minutes or so, it should be sticky and semi-liquid.  If not, continue boiling. Once it's ready, I take the pan of heated mason jars out of the oven, and use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to fill the jars.  Once they are all filled, I use tongs to take the caps out of the hot water and gingerly flip them over onto the filled jars.  I then quickly grab the jars with the tongs and tighten the lids.  I tighten them more as they cool. There is nothing like the pop of a mason jar lid once it has created the proper vacuum.

Summer in a jar!

L. to R. - Red Currant, Black Currant, Gooseberry Jelly.
The Gooseberry Jelly was more involved as I didn't have a proper recipe for it, and ended up adding too much water to make the mash.  No problem really, as I just boiled it longer before and after adding the sugar.  Once I canned it, it stayed liquid until it cooled down and then, magically, jelled. It does feel like alchemy sometimes.

Last year, I made Red and Black Currant Jellies and the red was considerably more runny, whereas the black was much more paste-like. Methinks it's a pectin thing. If there's any more fruit at the market next Saturday, I'm going to try my hand at flavoured jelly - Gooseberry Mint?  Hot Pepper Red Currant?  Once you have the basics down, your imagination is the limit.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Cemeteries

This past week, I was in Toronto Thursday night for my book club, which was held near Mt. Pleasant and Eglinton.  I was early, so I walked around the neighbourhood and discovered that Mount Hope Cemetery was just down the road from the book club location, and walked around to have a look.  Cemeteries have long fascinated me. They are often oases of peace and quiet in the midst of the noisy, urban environment. There are also well-manicured lawns, lots of trees and birds, and very few (living) souls in sight.  Good places to get away from it all.  The older graves, especially, are quite beautiful and  good examples of artistry.  I also like the shabby-chic look of the weather-worn gravestones, which makes them the perfect subject of photographs.

Gothic figures

Note the plane in the distance
Once back in G-town, I rode my bike up to the local Woodlawn Cemetery, and walked around taking some more pictures of the graves that captured my eye.  I uploaded some into my Camera+ app on my jPhone and altered them to make them more interesting.

Lion statue atop a Sons of England memorial

Child's grave with a lamb motif (there were many like this. Sad.)
 My favourite Toronto cemetery is Mount Pleasant, which is large and contains many great photo-ops.

Mount Pleasant Lion - very lifelike.
In my travels over the years, I have tried to make a point of visiting Cemeteries in other cities.  They are often older than what we have here in Canada, and are visually quite stunning.

Bunhill Fields, London, England.
Cirencester Cemetery, England.
My all-time favourite cemetery has to be Pere Lachaise, in Paris France, where many famous people are buried.  I could easily devote a whole blog to it as I spent hours walking around the vast grounds, taking in the many interesting graves, happily snapping away with my camera.

Loved the colour of this realistic figure.

Creepy or what?

Something that could easily be in a horror movie.