Friday, 19 December 2014

Kevin update

The other day, my friend Christiana asked about Kevin.   He's doing okay, grown up and maturing into a daddy's boy.  He knows what time his papa should be home from work and waits by the door and if he's home early, he'll run to the door as soon as he hears the truck drive up.  He whines incessantly if his papa is late and comes to him when he's called, just like a puppy.  When Kevin is home with me though, he spends much of his time like this.
 He loves to sleep on the rocking chair.  We think it's because when he was little, he was always falling off the back of the sofa or the chairs when he slept.  However, the rocking chair has a backward slope and it kept him from tumbling while he slept.  He must feel secure there.
When he's not sleeping, he likes to sit by the side window on his little bench and watch whatever is out there, birds, chickens, bunnies and even the neighbour's dogs. 

He loves to sit on my loom and catch the views from the front window as well. 

In the mornings you'll find him and my cat in my bedroom, snuggled on the plush blankie.  There are two cats in this photo!  Kevin sleeps on top but right in front of him, snuggled under the blanket is my cat.  They are often snuggled together this way.

 That being said, Kevin still likes to explore.   He was thrilled when we got our Christmas tree. It's a lovely, fragrant Balsam Fir, which Kevin seems to enjoy sniffing.  He seems to do that a lot.  We used a galvanized pail, with bricks and a drainage tile for a stand.  It's always been plenty sturdy for whatever tree we've had in the past.
A few minutes after Kevin's first tree sniffing session, I heard a crash and found him sitting innocently behind the tree, watching the drama unfold.   We spent the evening picking up ornaments, and mopping up about 8 litres of water from the rug!   I was thankful the vintage ornaments weren't on the tree yet, although a little ticked off that an awful lot of the glass ornaments on the tree were smashed in the fall.  However, that is a risk one takes when you use glass instead of plastic ornaments.  We have a new, larger, more secure stand now too.  

It's a good thing hubby thinks Kevin is cute!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Colours of December

It's early December.  We've had snow and it's melted.  We've had more snow and it melted.  Yesterday they changed the longterm weather forecast from another cold, snowy winter, dominated by a polar vortex, to hey, the El Nino will moderate things, so who knows what sort of weather we'll get.  Today the temperature is hoving a few degrees below freezing.  We're getting small bursts of sunshine once in a while, which is a lovely change to our normally dreary, grey days.   We get a lot of overcast days during the winter.

 One of the girls was brave enough to wander around outside.  These chooks aren't that fond of any snow on the ground.   We used to have some which would stoically head outside until the snow was so deep that they couldn't travel in it without bogging down.  These girls are wusses in comparison.

 View from behind the back fenceline. 

 Across the road.  Sometimes you can see the cows wandering through the trees and back field this time of year.  When winter sets in properly, they'll be housed in a nice warm barn, but until then, they are fun to watch.

The nice thing about being with the Carolinian Forest area is the variety of deciduous trees.  We have several nice oaks, which hold their leaves through most of the winter winds.   Interestingly Carolinian Forest is a Canadian term and it's U.S. counterpart is something like Eastern Woodlands.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Garnet Yarn

First take a bunch of yarn and cut it up into bits.  I'd have done smaller bits, but it's been a bit difficult because of that ->

I've no idea what I did, but I woke up one morning in pain.  After realizing it wasn't just a simple strain and it wasn't getting better by itself, the x-rays showed a fractured wrist bone and landed me in a splint for at least 2 - 3 weeks.  This is after several weeks of babying it, and being relatively unproductive, so I'm not too happy about this.  Not at all!  It is interfering with all sorts of activities.

So back to spinning.  Take a bunch of yarn and cut it up into bits.  I used leftover blended colours from Master Spinner level 2.  I used 3 different scraps and cut them into bits.   I found a bit of leftover Icelandic fibre from a previous project.

I started carding the Icelandic and once the fibres were blended and aligned, I put some of the chopped up pieces on the carder and continued carding, finally forming a rolag with the chopped up bits integrated into the fibres.

Then I spun the rolags, using a long draw.   Mainly the chopped up bits are securely spun into the singles.   But every once in a while, one of the bits gets flicked off the fibre.   It creates a fun yarn with a very simple technique.  It was also quite fun to spin.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Poured Candlemaking

 I had a whole post on hand dipping candles worked out, when I realized that I had only half the photos that I needed.  Instead, we get plain, poured, moulded candles.

Have a fire extinguisher in easy reach or make sure you know where it is.  I have one on a nearby kitchen shelf and a second one by the woodstove.

Wax is extremely flammable and for safety, use a double boiler for melting.  In this case, it's a stainless steel pot I use for crafts but not dyeing and a tin can, which is elevated from the pot bottom.  Normally I use a metal trivet, but I had bamboo skewers handy, and just made a triangle of those, on which to sit the pot.    

There is a variety of different suggestions for wax flashpoints out there.   Check with the manufacturer of the wax you're using to make sure you have the safe working temperatures.   Here I'm using a paraffin wax blend.   It melts at about 139° F and heats up quickly.  These will be scented candles, so I also check the flashpoint of the scented oils as well.  The colourant and scent mix well at 175° - 179° F.  I use a thermometer to keep track of the temperatures because while wax melts fairly slowly, once it's melted, it comes to temperature quite quickly.   I could speed up the melting process by chopping the wax into smaller pieces.  Don't leave the melting wax unattended!

While the wax is coming to temperature, get your moulds ready.   Cover a surface with paper if you so choose.  You will need your moulds, wick pins if you have them.  If not, some bamboo skewers and your wicks.    Put your scent and colourant in an easy to access place as well.

If your wax needs additives, add them first.  Then add the scent and finally the colourant.  This way you know for sure that you've got everything needed for that particular wax vat.   I add my scent and colourant once the wax gets to just above 175°F and by the time I've mixed it in, the wax temperature is 179°F.  I turn off the stove and pour into my moulds.   Normally my moulds would be all in a row for easy pouring but today I did things the hard way.  When pouring votives and tea lights, pour almost to the top, but not quite.  Too much of a space may leave a pour mark when you top up the wax, too little and you can't get perfect coverage on repouring.

 Because I don't have wick pins, I wait until the wax is just starting to cool on the edges and push the wick into the soft cooling wax on the bottom.   If wicks start to lean one way or another, I use skewers to keep them centred until the wax is solid.

When the wax cools, it sinks in the middle, leaving a well or indentation around the wick.   To fix this, reheat the remaining wax to about 10° - 15° F above the initial pour temperature.  Then pour some wax to top off the moulds.  With the glass containers, I only add enough wax to completely cover the top and not raise the depth of wax.  Sometimes you'll need to top up twice to get a completely smooth candle.  If a little bit of an uneven surface doesn't  bother you, then once should do it.

When completely cold, tap the bottom of the votive moulds to remove the candles.  Tealights and containers stay in the moulds.  Trim the wicks to about 1/4 inch.  It's recommended to wait 24 hours before burning.

I've used mottling wax here.  You can see the pink candles are flat, but rough on the edges where there wasn't quite enough space for topping off.  The purple/blue candles have a slight well in the centre, but nice edges.  It was a bit of a trade off there.  The container candle shows that my counter top is uneven, as the wax is slightly higher on one side than the other!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Historical Cooking

Yesterday, Westfield arranged for a day of historical cooking classes for the volunteers, with local food historian Carolyn Blackstock.  While we did a fair bit of cooking, there was a lot of time spent on food safety, woodstove and hearth cooking safety and making sure everyone was comfortable with the basics.  We also covered choosing and interpreting recipes.  While it was pretty basic in a lot of ways, and the instructor was a bit distracted at times, which caused the class participants to drift in their engagement to the topic, it was a lot of fun.   There were some great suggestions for resources, and a lot of upbeat ideas to get the enthusiasm revved back up.

Boiled pudding in a muslin pudding bag.
The morning session was on woodstove cooking, while the afternoon was on hearth cooking.  Because of the time of year, suet puddings were highlighted, including a boiled pudding in a pudding bag, a baked bread pudding, a stirred cornmeal pudding and a baked suet pudding.    As well, a simple sausage and potato dish, and a hot slaw were made, while the reflector roasted duck wasn't made due to time and the fact that the duck was missing. 

Boiled and/or steamed puddings are cakes which are cooked in a water bath.   When using a bag, the bag is first buttered and floured, before the batter is put in the bag.  After the bag is tied shut, with lots of room for expansion, the bag is dunked in boiling water and boiled for several hours, depending on the size of the pudding.  The larger the pudding, the more hours it takes to cook.   The batter isn't soaked and doesn't leak into the water because the boiling water immediately turns the butter/flour coating on the bag, to a glue like substance which seals the bag.   We also saw a very cool lidded metal pudding mould, which is now on my must have list.

I knew I'd forgotten my camera, but also forgot that I'd tossed my phone in my pocket until we were eating lunch.  In the afternoon we were at the inn, with it's large hearth and interestingly quirky andirons.  The cooking crane doesn't hang still, so the one andiron and a rock are used to control it.
Boiled cornmeal pudding
We started with a cornmeal pudding, which was boiled cornmeal with a few additions.  It was good enough, topped with molasses or butter if you chose.  It was an everyday sort of pudding, rather than something special, but definitely edible, though much less sweet than we are used to.
Breadcrumb pudding

We then moved on to a bread crumb based suet pudding.  The instructions gave the option of boiling or baking.    We pulled out a dutch oven, put the batter in a cake pan and baked the pudding with the coals.  For campfire/hearth cooking, a dutch oven with legs is preferable.  They usually have 3 legs, and a tight fitting, flat lid with a rim.    The lid holds coals so that the heat comes from both the bottom and the top for even baking.  One of the resources suggested using 1/3 of the coals on the bottom and 2/3 of the coals on top.   After half an hour, the dutch oven was opened and the pudding was tested.  It was close to done, but the quince sauce wasn't yet done, so the pudding was put back in the dutch oven to keep warm and bake a little more. 

The quince sauce was interesting because quinces aren't easily found in this area.  The were not quite ready to use, since they must sit and start to turn mushy before they are soft and sweet, but one of the strong gentlemen, with mad knife skills, peeled and chopped the quince, which were then tossed in a pot over the fire, to stew.   When they were soft enough, we sampled the quince with the pudding and it was a brilliantly nice combination.  This pudding was a very basic pudding, though it had a lot of lemon in it.  The two were a nice treat.

All in all, it was a great day!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Spinning, spinning, spinning

Much spinning has been happening.  I've been playing with colour combinations in processing, so hackling, carding etc.  I've been trying for reproduceable results but it turns out that my little scale that I've been using to weigh things is finally seeing it's end of usefulness and no longer weighs accurately.  It's great for general and larger amounts but I can't get small amounts weighed out evenly anymore.  This means that when I card each rolag, I can't guarantee there is the same amount of fibre in each one.  This makes for uneven results once in a while.  They are still pretty though.
And very colourful.  The pink one is two different shades of pink which looked like they had a huge amount of contrast before spinning.  After they were spun up, not so much!  But I do love the yarn.
Practicing the long draw.  Because, despite the fact that I spin a lot, I still practice.   It's the only way to get consistency and control.  So once in a while, I just grab some fibre and practice something.   Since the long draw is not natural for me, I often practice it, in hopes of becoming consistent and have control of making finer and thicker yarns.  This is superwash merino and alpaca.  I just wish I'd processed the alpaca before I stuck the locks on the blending board and used handcards or the drum carder instead.  This is making an uneven yarn which of course drives me a bit batty.   I'm hoping there will be enough for mittens when I'm done.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Halloween Treats

Today`s treat comes from the 1845 edition of The Economical Housekeeper, by Mrs. E.A. Howland.

103 Gingersnaps

Boil a tea-cupful of molasses, and add two spoonfuls of butter, one spoonful of ginger, and one tea-spoonful of saleratus, stir the flour in when it is hot, roll it thin, cut into rounds.  Bake quick.

The recipe has no sweetener save the molasses and very little butter.   A tea-cup is 4 ounces or 1/2 cup.  Because the measurement of saleratus is specific on the size of spoon, I guessed that the un-specified spoon was most likely a tablespoon.  It took 1 1/2 cups of flour to make a cookie dough from the wet ingredients.

So 1/2 cup or 4 oz molasses
2 tbsn butter
1 tbsn ginger
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups flour  

Mix the flour and the ginger, and set aside.  In a pot or sauce pan, put the molasses and butter.  Bring to a boil and add the baking soda.  It will foam up a bit.   Take the pot off the heat, stir in the flour/ginger mixture.   The recipe says to simply roll it out, but it's a fairly stiff yet sticky dough, so I wrapped it in plastic film wrap and set it aside for 15 minutes.   It was still sticky, but more pliable.  I rolled it out both on flour and on sugar.  The flour worked best.  The sugar caramelized a bit more than I'd prefer but it did taste good.   The dough rolled quite thin with ease and I cut out various shapes.  I popped them onto a cookie sheet and baked them at 350° for 4 - 5 minutes.  Doesn't take long to bake these babies!

In re-rolling the scraps, I had to add a few drops of water, squish them together and let them set for a while, so the moisture could equalize through the dough scraps.  I was only able to re-use the scraps once.  Next time I'd just roll them into a log and slice, so as to avoid wasting the dough.  It is the Economical Housekeeper after all.

The cookie dough is definitely not sweet, but still quite tasty. I was amazed at the fact that though the dough was sturdy, the cookie is not.  It's not delicate and flaky by any means, but it wasn't tough and gave a satisfying snap.  While I prefer the depth of flavour other ginger cookie recipes might have with multiple spices, this recipe was easy, cheap and still satisfyingly good.