Thursday 30 April 2015

What Is A Sugar Castor?

The best thing about taking the dessert as a dinner guest was getting to use my new to me sugar castor. I found it in a consignment shop for under $20. The top is silver plated and the the body is cut crystal.

You may have seen sugar castors at thrift shops and yard sales and not been sure what they are used for. They are intended to sprinkle caster sugar on pastries, berries, etc. at the dinner table.

The detachable top is perforated to allow for easy sprinkling of the finely powdered caster sugar.

I'm not making typos here when I say castor for the shaker and caster for the sugar. The shaker gets it's name from castor sets that graced dining tables and usually held oil and vinegar bottles, mustard pots, salt and pepper shakers and sugar castors. No Victorian dining table would be complete without one of these beauties.

Caster sugar is finely ground, white sugar and is sometimes called confectioner's sugar. Because it is finely ground, it dissolves quickly and is often used in meringues and perfect for adding sweetness to desserts at the table without the grittiness of regular table sugar. I'm not saying this stuff is good for you, just that it's gooood!

In fact, caster sugar is so good I may have been a little heavy handed when I dusted these lemon squares.

Even we healthy eating gals have to have the odd guilty splurge, don't you think?

I'm sharing this with What's It Wednesday

Thursday 23 April 2015

Earth Day Thought For 2015

Earth Day 2015 is over. I've turned out the lights for an hour this evening and read all the nice Facebook slogans. It should feel good, but it doesn't. I know in my heart that we are failing the planet, everything that lives on it and everything that will inhabit the world in the future.

We simply aren't doing enough, though we have ample evidence that we are on a rapidly escalating path to destruction.

I'm a normal human being and I don't want to give up all the convenience of our modern world. I like heat, hydro, cars and all the rest of the things that consume fossil fuel. I buy lumber and wood products. In short I use it all and, even if I do my best to keep my consumption and my carbon footprint low, I'm still part of the problem.

But, I also believe that there are clever people out there who know how to make changes that will allow us to keep much of our standard of living and still give the earth the chance to heal. There are amazing inventions that never get to see the light of day and the only reason they aren't being integrated into our world is GREED. Greed of governments (and Canada is a top offender here), that want the corporate taxes and economic growth from the fossil fuel industry and greed of corporations that have no reason for existence except to generate profit. In Canada, we are afraid of our economy collapsing if we move away from exploiting and exporting our natural resources.

We choose to do this in our boreal forest. ~

photo credit Jiri Rezak

This is a tar sands, oil extraction project in Alberta, Canada. It is a complex means of extracting oil from sand that creates enormous lakes of toxins, right in the middle of the boreal forest. That forest is 54% of the world's intact boreal and crucial to migrating birds, water flow to the Arctic Ocean to form ice and cool the atmosphere and it's wetlands store 25 yrs. of man made carbon emissions. Canada has 10,000 kilometers of boreal forest. That's equal to the Amazon forest and just as important to world ecology.

If you are upset at finding out how poorly we are caring for this world resource, I'll give you a hint on how to put pressure on Canadians to treat this forest with the respect it deserves.

We Canadians have a great point of vulnerability; our Achilles heel as it were. We are vain about our public image. That's all you need to know to put pressure on us. We like to be thought of as the good guys, home to moose and beaver, with beautiful lakes and mountains and forests and people who say sorry even when they haven't done anything to be sorry about.

Just imagine how many times we are going to be saying sorry if the world starts exposing us as one of the lowest performers in the OECD on working toward halting climate change.

Send your journalists over here and let them show what a tar sands trailing pond looks like. Let them write about how these ponds are leaking chemicals into a delicate northern ecosystem. ~

You know I like to write about positive things and stories with happy endings. It is painful to me to say bad things about the country that I have always felt blessed to live in. Only my absolute belief that mankind has reached a crisis on environmental issues would induce me to write this post.

It is all connected; all of us and everything in this world. Each thing we do impacts everything else and everyone else around us. It ripples and moves and touches another thing. I want to move away from doing bad things and begin to move toward doing good things.

It's time to truly understand planet Earth. The sand in the hourglass is sifting through to the bottom. Let's support the new thinkers that can help us turn the hourglass around.

I was amazed and delighted to see this video of the research discovery of the symbiotic relationship between species and generations of trees and fungi. It's only 4 minutes long and worth the time to get a good idea of how much we have yet to learn about how things connect in the world.

I know our hearts are in the right place and maybe next year I can post about all the wonderful progress we have made and say,

Happy Earth Day!

Thursday 16 April 2015

Diatomaceous Earth For Natural Bug Control

One of the things you have to be careful about in chicken care is controlling lice and mites on the birds. No matter how clean you keep the coop, wild birds will carry these pests to your flock. The standard procedure is to dust the coop and chickens with Diatomaceous Earth.  Lice and mites can weaken a bird by feeding on it, so it's important to keep these pests under control.

You see it here as the white powder sprinkled throughout the hay in my newly cleaned coop. ~

I wasn't about to start dowsing my girls with this stuff without doing some heavy duty research first. What I discovered was a natural insect control product that can be used not only in the coop, but in the vegetable and flower gardens and inside my home.

What is it?  It is the fossilized remains of aquatic organisms called diatoms. They accumulated in the silt of waterways and is mined from those sites since the 1800's. Crushed into a fine powder, it has uses for a drying or binding agent and to control insect infestations. It's in many of the bug control products marketed for garden use.

It comes in various grades and I want to be absolutely clear that I am only talking about food grade certified Diatomaceous. I'm saying it twice, only use certified food grade diatomaceous earth. Let's make that three times. It's food grade that is safe for you, your children, and your pets.

Here's how it works. When insects crawl over the powdered Diatomaceous Earth, the sharp particles damage their exoskeleton.  This allows the powder to enter the insect and dehydrate it.

It does not hurt creatures that do not have an exoskeleton, even if it is consumed orally. This makes it an ideal pest control product for inside the home. Sprinkled in areas where there is a problem with fleas, ticks, spiders, ants, bedbugs etc. it will kill all the bugs passing over it.

In the case of pet flea control, carpets, pet beds and furniture can be sprinkled with the powder and it can be sprinkled on the fur of the pet. It doesn't hurt your cat or dog to lick the powder off. I've used it with no ill effect on my cats. The only downside was the cats dragging the powder from the carpets to the rest of the house. I admit it was a nightmare of white paw prints that had to be cleaned off every surface they could manage to tromp all over! In my opinion, it was worth the mess to avoid putting chemicals on or in the cats to get rid of the fleas.

After about a week, the new flea eggs will have hatched and the process has to be done all over again.

I also leave a fine dusting of Diatomaceous Earth in the basement to kill spiders and centipedes.

Pots of herbs and weather sensitive plants that are brought indoors to overwinter should have a dusting of it on the pot soil to be sure you aren't importing bugs into the house.

It's the only product I use in my vegetable garden and flower beds now.  Since it is food grade and I can actually eat the stuff with no ill effects, I'm comfortable putting it on my vegetable plants when there is a bug problem and still have organic produce.

What does it cost? I find the price fluctuates wildly depending on the retailer. Garden centres sell a small canister or bag for around $8.00. I've seen stores specialising in organic and natural insect control charging over $60.00 for a 50 lb bag. I bought my 50 lb. bag at my local feed mill for $8.00 so do some price shopping in your area. Once you've determined it's food grade, you don't need any pretty packaging or chic labels to get the job done safely and quickly. I've been using the same 50 lb. bag for three years, have given tubs of it away and still have three-quarters of it left.

How do you use it?  I use a mask while I'm sprinkling the dust so I'm not breathing in the fine powder. Any  powder, inhaled, can be an irritant to lungs, sinus and throat. It is a drying agent and can irritate eyes so protective glasses are a good idea. For the same reason, I don't sprinkle it near pet's eyes or mouths.
It's recommended you leave it on surfaces in the home for four to twelve hours before vacuuming it up. I left it on my carpets for several days to be sure every flea had ample time to crawl over it.
It should only be sprinkled on dry surfaces. Dampness reduces the effectiveness of the powder and I find it solidifies into a bit of a paste if it gets wet that is difficult to clean up.
I sprinkle the powder on days when the windows are closed and no fans are running so it isn't stirred up into the air, causing potential breathing problems.
It only takes a thin layer of the dust to be effective. If you apply it too thickly to surfaces, it may cause clogging of your vacuum. I've never had a problem but somewhere I read that caution.
I sprinkle it on the floor, nesting boxes and perches of the coop. Once a month or so, I add a bit to the chicken feeders for a natural dewormer.

There you go. No more dangerous chemicals, low cost, earth friendly and your bug troubles are gone!

I'm sharing this with Tuesdays With A Twist

Sunday 12 April 2015

The Chickens Go On Holiday

Warm weather is here!  It reached 19 degrees celsius (66 F) today and I could hardly make myself take the time to gulp down a cup of coffee before I hit the great outdoors.

The chickens were just as anxious to 'fly the coop'.  Once again, they made me laugh at how much they act like us.  Like any good Canadian, they couldn't wait to leave  the main coop and go to the quarantine coop cottage.

The little coop is barely big enough to hold 2 chickens comfortably, but they all crowded in. It has no amenities, no waterer or feeder, or straw lined nesting boxes. It's a rustic cedar cottage and they had the time of their lives in there. I would call them silly chickens, but I've squashed my family into a cedar shack, that had very few amenities, many a time and called it our vacation.

Since they were on holiday, they did a little sunning and bathing. ~

Nothing is finer on a sunny, spring day than to head for the woods on a hike, with a pickup picnic lunch. ~

Their personalities are as different as you find in any family. Rukmini, on the right, is bossy and pushes her sisters out of the way to grab the best bugs. Maddy, on the left, is shy and a bit on the sneaky side. In the middle is Elizabeth. She is polite and very particular about keeping her feathers snowy white.  The queen of the flock, Kay, is at the back, leading the way into certain trouble as she takes them to the neighbours yard. Old Vivien isn't in the picture because she always keeps her distance from the rowdy youngsters. She's a rescue and even leary of me; never sure if fate will turn on her again and have her scheduled to be culled out.

Of course, I wasn't on holiday and it was a perfect time to do a spring cleaning on the main coop. All this winter bedding and poop had to come out. ~

A scrub down and some fresh straw makes it good as new for when they come home from their vacation. ~

Last, but not least, I put Kay's baby back in the nursery. It may look like a golf ball to you and I, but to her it is a beloved child. As much as she screams and carries on while she lays an egg, she doesn't have any attachment to it. The other chickens can sit on it and anybody can take it away without bothering her in the least. But, don't even think of touching her baby! She'll puff herself up and pace up and down the coop, hollering bloody murder until you put it back.

Even to a chicken, love is blind.

Tuesday 7 April 2015

A Dandy Little Cream Ladle

If we can ever get it to stop snowing here it will be yard sale season. Yes, it snowed in Ontario over the Easter weekend, but it has to warm up sooner or later. Doesn't it?

If you are lucky enough to have warm weather, here's something to look for at yard sales. I have a fondness for glass milk bottles and actually transfer my milk to one. It stays so much colder in glass bottles.

I also have a fondness for ladles and would have bought this little one even if I didn't know what it was. A friend had shown me hers and I recognized this as a ladle to skim the cream from milk in glass bottles.

It has Cream Top embossed on the handle and a patent date of 1924. Canadian patents registered before 1989 were good for 17 years so I can date this ladle pretty closely.

Since I had the ladle, the friend found a cream top bottle to go along with it for me.  The cream would rise to the top of the bottle and you could either stir it into the milk or skim it off for coffee cream, heavy cream or whipping cream. This bottle shape kept the cream nicely in the bubble on top. Oh, how I wish you could buy milk like that today!

All I needed was a paper top and this little bit of daily life from the past was complete.

I paid $6.00 for my ladle at an antique show, but if you know what you are looking for you will come across one for much less at thrift stores and yard sales.

Happy hunting and keep your fingers crossed for me that the weather starts to feel like spring soon!

I'm sharing this with Thursday Favorite Things Blog HopWhat's It Wednesday