Winter days = Book days

The short days/long nights combo has finally arrived, allowing me to accumulate a stack of books without too much guilt. I look forward each evening to my post-prandial cup of tea, and the luxury of dipping into my pile, perhaps scanning and flipping, perhaps choosing one to settle in with and forget my surroundings.

I don’t read a lot of fiction during the spring and summer. I don’t dare. If I start one that suits me, I can’t put it down. No will power at all. Everything stops while I devour the chapters. I’m not a speedy reader, either, so we’re talking a couple of days, not a couple of hours.

So the winter then, is when I really dig into reading with gusto.  I’m pretty eclectic, but with a definite bias to farming/homesteading type books, some foodie stuff, light happy ending old fashioned fiction, and a fair amount of children’s literature.  I like a classic whodunnit, and will happily re-read favourites.

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Here then, is the pile I had going last week.

The Awakening of Miss Prim – this was recommended to me by a colleague, and I thought it would fit the bill for bedtime reading.  Indeed it ticked all the boxes:  light, wholesome, happy ending (ish), and slightly boring (so it can lull me).  It turns out to be one of those books that is philosophy dressed up as a novel.  I suspect the author has set herself up for a sequel, but I won’t be following Miss Prim into the next chapter of her life.  It did however, work admirably as a bedside book, and sent me off to sleep very quickly.

L.M. Montgomery – this is a short biography of the famous author of Anne of Green Gables and many other books, by a well known Canadian writer.  I haven’t started it properly yet, but have dipped into it enough to know that I will enjoy the writing.  I am something of a LMM fanatic, owning all of her books, including her 5 volumes of journals which were edited and published posthumously.  I have read 2 other biographies, and look forward to this one.  If you’ve never heard of her, see if your library has Anne of Green Gables, her first book. It’s usually in the children’s section, though the author did not intend it as a children’s book.  Give it a go, and trust me, it’s better than the Wikipedia blurb implies.

A Flannel Shirt and Liberty – This one had to wait till I was finished Restoration Agriculture, so I’ve only just started it.  The subtitle is:  “British Emigrant Gentlewomen in the Canadian West 1880-1914”, which pretty much describes the book.  It is a collection of articles and excerpts written by these women about their experiences and opportunities, edited by a history professor at the University of Alberta.  My maternal great grandmothers were just such women, which is why I picked up the book.  Though I have some family anecdotes and pictures, it is hard to imagine how they felt about their changes in circumstance, and this book is helping – most of the excerpts are from journals and letters from women who came out to the West and wrote home.  Well educated, genteel, accustomed to maids and cooks and washerwomen, and with few other skills besides embroidery, watercolour and music, these women were in a difficult place in England at the time – gold rushes world wide and emigration to the colonies meant that there were a million more women in Great Britain than men in that time period, and since “gentlewomen” were raised solely to be suitable wives, and most definitely not to work at menial tasks and jobs, many of them were likely to become spinsters living off the beneficence of male relatives or worse, become destitute.  Societies sprang up to chaperone these women to the colonies, where they might find opportunities of their own.  Both my great grandmothers came out with a sibling to stay with relatives on the Prairies, and it is clear that the idea was that they were to do their best to find someone to marry.  Which they obviously did, since here I am…The book is fascinating and my current mealtime reading.

Restoration Agriculture – Fabulous book.  I had seen a couple of YouTube videos of the author, Mark Shepard, speaking about what he calls “broad acre permaculture”, so I was somewhat prepared for the material in the book.  Mark writes very much as he speaks.  He’s forthright, down to earth, slightly impatient with people who worry about the grey areas – he’s all about doing.  Since his whole notion of restoration agriculture involves planting a LOT of trees, he’s got a point – they take a long time to grow, and the sooner they’re planted, the better.  It is not, on the other hand, a recipe book for how to create a permaculture farm – he describes all the elements, he describes what he’s done, and then he wants you to go out and get started planting, get trained, get educated from the resources in your area.  Agroforestry, silvopasturing, permaculture – they’re all part of what he calls restoration agriculture.  If you don’t have time to read, go listen to him on one of the podcasts he’s done for Permaculture Voices, or one of the many YouTube videos he’s featured in.

How Not to Be Wrong – subtitled “The power of mathematical thinking”.  I got this one for my younger teen, and ended up dipping into it myself.  It’s really about how all that math we learned in school that we think we’ve never used, is really all around us.  How using it intentionally can be powerful.  I read a couple of the anecdotes and the foreword.    I always read forewords and prefaces.  Probably why it takes me so long to get through a book.  That said, I haven’t done much more in this book, because it disappeared upstairs.  Which was the plan.  As long as I get it back before the due date…

How To Grow Perennial Vegetables – I got it after I started Restoration agriculture, because I was wondering what besides rhubarb, asparagus, nuts and grapes would be perennial that normal ordinary folk eat – and it turns out, quite a few things.  The book also includes a bunch of things I’ve never heard of, but in the main is full of actual possibilities.  I also realized once I’d read the foreword, that I knew who Martin Crawford is – he IS the agroforestry guy in the UK, and has written more than just the book in my stack.  His forest garden is quite well known in permaculture circles.  This was not so much a reading book as a browsing book and it went back and forth with me to work for a few days till I’d got through it.  I will probably get it out again after Christmas.

The Third Plate – this is also my third attempt at this book, and a failed one at that.  Dan Barber is probably known to many – he’s a famous American chef in the New York area, who has embraced the locavore trend and sustainable agriculture.  He also has numerous articles in papers and magazines, and you can find him on YouTube as well.  The reason I keep trying with this book is because he wrote an article just before the book came out in which he described a recent epiphany he’d experienced wherein he’d suddenly realized that sustainability was more than just eating the whole animal (a popular sustainability mantra), but also included the food and energy that goes into the creature and the farm it comes from.  I was interested in that thought and wanted to learn more about his perspective on it, but it turns out that The Third Plate is not really about that at all, or if it is, then he’s gone in a direction I’m not ready to absorb just at the moment, interesting though it is on the dust jacket.  The book reads as though he’s trying to channel Michael Pollan in style and format and it just doesn’t feel right in this voice.  I’m trying hard to get past this evidence of my superficial nature, but I think this one is going to get put aside till after Christmas as well.

Easy Upgrades Kitchens – this came home on a whim after a late night conversation with hubby about our future plans.  I love looking at pictures of beautiful kitchens.  I am never going to have a kitchen like any of them – I’m too messy, the word easy in the title is relative, and while I am not happy with many many aspects of my existing kitchen, I also don’t really know what I do want.  The book has given me one or two ideas though, which was kind of what I was hoping it would do.  The problem is that I’m inclined to want a recipe book solution – I want to be able to point to a picture and say “that’s what I want”.  But most of the kitchens in the book would occupy most of the first floor of my house, and “bumping” out a wall, as the featured homeowners seem to do as part of their “easy” upgrades isn’t an option.   Still, they are lovely…maybe my house would qualify for a This Old House makeover…

Delia’s Happy Christmas – now THIS is a recipe book.  I have avoided Delia (Smith) for years – when I first heard of her through her TV show, her cooking style seemed fussy and apparently used every cooking pot in the kitchen.  That was years ago, and perhaps my cooking has improved or something, because this book didn’t look intimidating at all, quite the contrary in fact (though her idea of casual holiday meals to pull together between Christmas and New Year’s involving oysters, pheasant and venison are just a tad out of my league).  In fact, it is from this book that my 16 yr old daughter pulled her recipe for hors d’oeuvres for a fundraiser she was involved in – puff pastry tarts, half with goat cheese, red onion and thyme, the other with pancetta, a slice of olive and a sage leaf.  They were delicious.  And amazing.  And simple!  She made them again for us to eat for supper one night (a whole dinner of puff pastry is delicious but not terribly good for the digestion, as it turns out, still totally worth it).  There are other easy and delicious recipes that also don’t use pheasant or oysters or every pot in the house, and her writing style is very easy to read.  A lovely book.

 

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Mundane Monday

The title is borrowed from my friends at Union Homestead, and suits the day perfectly.  Mondays are often my catch up day, as my official work shifts at the library are Thu/Fri/Sat.  I usually have at least one other work day as well, so even my “weekend” is not always 2 days together,  It can make it hard to stay focussed on larger projects, hence my marathon 5 day challenge with the chicken house a while back.

So, how did my mundane Monday shape up?

The morning was not too bad for outside work – the sky was looming a bit, and there was the odd spatter of rain, but by and large it was not unpleasant working outside.

My current project is taking out the fence that is between run 1 and 2 of the hen house.  If you were around for my 5 day challenge, I repaired the fence between run 4 and run 3.  After the challenge, I just kept going on fences, and managed to get the fence between 3 and 2 repaired fairly easily.  The one I’m working on now is a different matter – the wire was down in one or two places and grass, thistles and brambles were growing through, making it difficult to remove.  All the posts but one have to come out as they’re leaning so badly, and part of that fence is actually part of an old “temporary” cattle chute put in about 20 years ago by the guy who used to do our hay before Hay Guy took it over – the other guy used to put his dry cows on our field after the hay season was over.  The posts for the cattle chute have rotted underground and the whole thing wobbles when chickens land on the top bar before flying over – clearly a piece of fence that is not doing it’s job.  I’ve done about 2 mornings on this fence so far, and this proved to not be the final day.  The wire is off as far as the cattle chute, and the T posts are all out.  I’ve started hacking the blackberries away from the wooden part of the fence, and there I’ve had to stop. I still have to remove the cattle chute and quite a bit of blackberry before I can start putting fence up again.

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Fence 1/2 before I started work this morning.

 

Mid-morning, a customer came to get the last three of the point of lays hens I’d advertised last month.  She had come a few weeks ago, and asked me to reserve some for her, as she wasn’t ready to receive them at her end – she has an existing flock, and was worried that one or two of them might have an infection, and didn’t want to bring home new birds till she knew her birds were clear.  Last week, she made contact to come and fetch the three I’d held back for her.  Gillian and her husband have a small acreage in a community just north of me, and have a cottage bakery business called Willowtree Bread, from which they make and sell artisanal breads, veggies and plant starts, and honey…and probably, if my hens are up to scratch, eggs as well!  We had a good chat while catching the birds and stowing them in their dog crate in the car, and later, when I’d had glanced at her website, I realized my chickens don’t know how lucky they are to have landed up there – they will be free ranging, and living out their days to a ripe old age with a great deal of TLC.

Lunch with a book was blissful – melted cheese on bread with the scrag ends of some pancetta left over from some fancy hors d’oeuvres the high school teen had made a couple of days ago as her contribution to the finger food at the fundraiser for her Global Perspectives class.  I don’t mind leftovers like that one bit.  I could see it was doing a bit more than spattering out, so I had a second cup of tea while I turned a few more pages in my book (Restorative Agriculture – Mark Shepard), and when I looked up again, it had settled down to a steady rain, so I got out my duster and started on house work.  An hour of that was more than enough, and I was rescued around 430 by the arrival home from school of the 16 yr old.  A cup of tea and a chat later, she disappeared to do homework, while I nipped out to get the last of the eggs and shut the hens in.  Have I mentioned we’re finally back in eggs?  About 13/day, all tiny pullet eggs – it’s a bit like russian roulette cracking them open – some are mini double yolkers, some are yolkless altogether.  We did our first egg sales on Saturday in fact, and hubby took a couple of dozen to work today.

Thanks to hubby’s cooking effort yesterday (a magnificent crockpot meal of smoked pork hocks in cabbage and ale, with roast veg and mashed potatoes on the side), there were tons of leftovers, so  today’s supper was a no-brainer – hash. While I was slaving over that, I remembered belatedly that I was supposed to be contributing baked goods to a staff bake sale tomorrow, a fundraiser for United Way.  So I got going on some cranberry muffins and swotted up a recipe that would make a lot of cookies with the ingredients I actually had on hand, so I could dig into that after supper.  Only two of us home, so it  was a casual meal and some convivial washing up. She stuck around till the first batch came out of the oven and then settled into more homework, warm cookie in hand.

The cookie factory wound down around 9 pm, and the kitchen looks normal again.  Hubby and the university girl (he was with clients, she was studying late) are finally on their way home, so we’ve packaged up the ones for the bake sale, stashed the remainder in a cookie jar and kept one or two out for the latecomers.

And that’s the kind of day it’s been here at gloomy, wet, Sailors Small Farm. Definitely a good day to be in a farm house kitchen baking cookies instead of out at sea, with frozen fingers, water dripping off my nose, and damp coming through the seams of the wet weather gear. I don’t miss some of the good old days at all.