Wednesday 31 August 2011


~The faculty of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for~

Where do these things come from?  A couple of weeks ago a vine appeared in my flower garden.  How it survived my occasional weeding forays, a layer of mulch and stray cats using that area for a litter box beats me.

I'm used to plants sprouting in my veggie garden without any assistance from me.  I spread compost on it every year and they are the offspring of my kitchen and garden waste.  Sometimes they have overwintered in the soil and waited for a new season to reinvent themselves.  This popped up this year.   Mmmm - grape tomatoes!

 This survived the tilling and weeding in my sister's garden.  Surprise!

 I leave these things where they take root.  They are little surprise packages and I love the anticipation as I wait to see exactly what they are.  It's my version of the Chinese principle of Wei Wu Wei or Doing Without Doing.

This dog showed up as a pup at my door.  It became a wonderful companion to my parents.

 These cats came into my life without any effort from me and have become my buddies.

I'm working on relaxing and doing without doing.  I'm trying to stop weeding, clipping and debugging the roses and follow the old adage; stop and smell the roses.

Maybe, next year, I'll let the gardens seed themselves and see what happens.  Hmmmm.    

Tuesday 30 August 2011

However Did This Get Started?

I make dozens of jars of garlic dill pickles every year.  I don't eat dills.  I just make them for my children, their husbands, their children, my friends, my neighbours, my lawyer (don't ask me how that got started) and anyone else who professes a fondness for little, shrivelled cucumbers in glass containers. 

It started many years ago when my daughter would only eat Grandpa's pickles.  I would
order them up politely request a few jars and he would kindly deliver them.  That is the civilized way to do home canning!  I was very happy with the system.  I'm thinking he was not quite as thrilled with it.  One year, when I placed my order, he arrived with a basket of cucumbers and the secret family recipe.
I bought canning pots, jars, lids, rings, dill, vinegar, garlic and salt.  This was not an economical system at all!  I spent hours giving myself a vinegar facial, burning my hands on hot jars and turning my kitchen into a disaster zone.  I was hot and I was tired.  But, when that first lid snapped shut, the excitement and feeling of accomplishment was wonderful!

My father in law (the original pickle maker) has passed away and I keep the tradition going.  It's a great way to butter up the son in laws!

I'd love to make them for all of you but instead will share the secret family recipe.

 To turn this ~

Into this ~

Garlic Dill Pickles

3 Quarts water
1 Quart all natural vinegar (I use President's Choice All Natural)
1/2 Cup rock salt
1 Bunch dill
6 Quart basket of #2 size cucumbers (organic if possible)

Sterilize 6-9 quart sealer jars in a large preserving kettle.  You can do this a bit ahead of time and place them on a cookie sheet in an oven warmed to 200F. 
In a large preserving kettle, bring to a full boil, water, vinegar and salt.
Fill jars with washed cucumbers, a couple of heads of dill and 2 peeled garlic cloves.
Fill jars to top with boiling brine.Cap and let sit for 5 mins.
(Now here's the secret)
Dump the brine off the pickles and back into the preserving kettle.  Put the caps on the jars to keep the them sterile.  Bring the brine back to a full boil.  Refill the jars to the top with the brine. 
Hand tighten the rings and leave the jars to cool before moving them.  You will hear the lids snap shut. 
Leave for six weeks to "cure" before eating.

Decorator tip:
Canning sealers, especially vintage ones with zinc tops, make wonderful decorative accents.  I use them for everything from flower vases to tea light holders.  They seal (hence the name sealers) keeping moisture and any other unwanted (hmmm mice?) things out for great dry storage.  For display, they fit perfectly in the vintage milk bottle carrier I bought for $22.00 and you can usually pick up antique sealers for about $10.00 each.

Enjoy your vinegar facial!

Monday 29 August 2011

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count The Ways. ~ Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I admit to a love/hate relationship with my home.  Old houses demand constant attention or they retaliate with cracks, leaks, warps and creaks.  There is no storage, dirt floor basement and two closets.  Oddities are embraced as the result of a single man building it by lantern light after pulling stumps and working his fields with a horse.  If things don't always line up in the structure, I can understand why.

Generations of inhabitants ruined it renovated it to suit the times and I found it with asbestos tile ceilings, plywood living room walls and eight layers of wallpaper upstairs.  The corners of the bedroom walls were round!  I think that makes them not be corners but you can't call them the rounds.

With two small children, a musician husband and mortgage rates at 20% (You read that right younguns.), we sold a new townhouse in the city and this is what we could afford.

What it did have going for it was this!

And this adorable church!

And a real general store that let you run a tab! 

That it only had a 60 amp hydro service was no big problem if you didn't run the stove and dryer at the same time.  That it hadn't had heat in it for years was no real problem if you didn't mind wallpaper and cracking plaster falling on you while you slept.  But, the spiders!  The gargantuan spiders!  That was a problem.

When my aunt bought me a gallon of white paint to cover the hideous, shellacked, plywood walls my partnership with the house began and I feel we have developed a nice rapport.  I tore out layers of improvements and revealed the high baseboards, pine floors and rough plaster walls.  I left the primitive board doors on the bedrooms though one doesn't close properly.  I planted trees and shored up the eroding riverbank. 

The house, on her part, has withstood storms of snow, ice, rain and a tornado without flooding or shifting; the stout walls shelter man and beast century after century.  The best thing about old houses is that they let you express yourself.  They've seen fashion come and go, hard times come and go, birth and death, happiness and sadness and they know they endure.  I think that is worth the loss of a few closets!

I'll post lots of decorator tips on storage solutions and you can be sure I utilize them all!