Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pantry joy

This is what keeps me going through two hundred pounds of pears, recurrent apple-picking sessions, the grinding of spelt and wheat, the hours of collating, sorting and hauling around bulk orders of nuts and grains. The pleasure of a pantry that looks like this. Glass jars, food sorted and ready and waiting, to last us the whole winter.

And see -- my Eschenfelder has arrived! We had fresh-flaked oats for breakfast. Deelish!

Monday, September 28, 2009



Another teenager in the family. A handsome one, too, if I do say so.

Yes, that's the Portal cake, painstakingly decorated by Sophie.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pears done!

We finished with the last of the pears today. We spent the afternoon picking an awful lot of tart apples. Then we combined them in a 3:1 ratio with the pears. We filled the cider press five times just today, and a few more times over the past week or so. Our freezer is now filled with 75 litres of lovely fruit juice. We also have a few gallon jars and bags of dried pear slices.

There's plenty of opportunity for more apple juice in the weeks to come, but we may call it a year on the juice-pressing. It's been a big week.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pear math

Eight slices per pear. Fourteen pears per tray. Six trays on the dehydrator. Eight batches so far. That equals 5,376 slices over the past five days. Sophie probably contributed a third of those. Fiona loves the "pear puzzling" task of placing the slices on the trays so that we can fit in the maximum number. We've also pressed some apple-pear juice which quickly dispensed with hundreds more pears. The freezer is filling with juice. The bags and jars are filling with dried slices.

Next up, mid-season apples. After that, prune-plums. And then finally it will be late-season apples. Fall fruit is bountiful and wonderful this year. We feel so lucky.

Soon we will take delivery of 120 pounds of locally grown organic grains and lentils. Six weeks after that our bulk nut order will arrive. The new hens will start laying soon. It's harvest season.

Twenty years ago fall didn't mean harvest to me at all. It just meant cheaper fresher food in the grocery stores. My whole orientation to life, food and the natural world has changed so much over the past 20 years.

Look what I ordered the other day. Fresh-rolled oats are such a totally different food from the sawdust you buy in stores. Mmmm....

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Un-running update

It was six months ago today that I started running. Unfortunately, I basically stopped running about a month ago due to recalcitrant hip pain. I did a few short easy runs after I got hurt but I ended up in a lot of pain. So I stopped running at the end of August. My pain improved about 50% but my improvement stalled after that. I can walk with little to no limp most of the time, but any jogging or anything that puts more force on my leg than normal standing and walking is totally out of the question -- the pain is immediate. So no half marathon for me.

After a couple of weeks of zero running with no improvement I went to see a chiropractor, a runner himself, with lots of knowledge about gait and sports injuries. He was mystified -- I have complete painless range of motion and good strength, but persistent weight-bearing pain, and it hasn't responded to the manipulations and exercises he's suggested.

So at his request I'm waiting to get a bone scan to rule out a femoral neck stress fracture. In the meantime I am needing a lot of help with day-to-day stuff like carrying bags of pears and groceries, moving the fruit press around, hauling bags of chicken feed, lifting the apple press, emptying out the cat litter, moving the dog food to the basement and such-like. It's really frustrating. I'm so accustomed to being able to lift and carry and haul and move stuff. I don't like asking for help. And to be honest my family isn't so great about actually helping even when asked. I need to keep working on them -- but it's hard when I don't like having to ask. I suppose I should welcome this challenge as an opportunity for personal growth.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dorodango tips

Many of you have asked about how we make our dorodangos. You can try for some good links and basic information. That's where we started.

We're certainly not experts. We're each now four mudballs into the endeavour. Our efforts are still rudimentary at best. But we're improving! See the photo for a comparison of my first doro (on the left) to today's as-yet-unpolished effort. Lots smoother! So, for what it is worth, here is some of what we've discovered.

Put your dirt through a sieve. A coarse sieve is fine for the initial muck-ball formation. Your soil can be fairly sandy if that's what you've got, but get the roots and leaves out. A finer sieve, and use of soil with a higher clay content, is best for the later stages.

About the various stages. There are basically three. First you start with wet dirt and your ball will feel jiggly and mucky. Handle it plenty, encouraging it to be a round shape. You can dust it with a bit of dry dirt once or twice, but don't do more than that. Adding too much dry dirt on the surface too soon can lead to cracking. We handle our jiggly mud for 20-30 minutes, at the end of which it's still slightly glistening with wetness on the surface. It seems like nothing has happened, but lingering at this stage is fun (muck!) and it seems to prevent cracks from developing. Don't squeeze to get rid of the water -- subsequent applications of dirt will draw moisture out; squeezing will cause cracking.

During the next stage you add dustings of dirt to form a proto-capsule, which will make the dorodango quite firm by the time you are done. Use fine-screened dirt with a reasonably high clay content. Again, don't squeeze, and don't hurry. Trickle on a tiny mountain of dry dirt, and brush most of it off gently with your thumb. Rotate and repeat. Use your palm to gently smooth off the excess. Once all trace of actual wetness is gone and the shell of the ball is feeling fairly strong, get a small jar about three-quarters of the diameter of the dorodango. Place the open end of the jar against part of the dorodango and move it in small circles extremely gently to smooth the damp-but-not-moist ball. Continue over the entire surface.

If it's not totally smooth now, you can place it in a closed Ziploc bag or under a jar until the surface feels a bit moist again, then repeat a bit more of the proto-capsule step.

Now the dorodango should rest for a while. An hour in the sun outside, or a few hours inside. It will shrink and firm up, hopefully without cracking. (Our cracks have all occured within the first 20-30 minutes.)

The final capsule creation is something we haven't really mastered yet. Glossiness and strength seem to be a bit of an artisans' secret. Tips or suggestions are welcome. We've managed a sort of semi-gloss finish on a couple of ours. We can only dream of something approaching the lacquer-like finish on the ones on the site.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pear production

We're into day three of pear processing here. All six trays of the dehydrator have been loaded up yet again.

We pulled out our copy of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen" by Harold McGee to figure out how to handle the ripening. Ninety-five per cent of our pears are still not ripe, which is a blessing. If we can continue to ripen a steady trickle of 4 or 5 pounds a day, they'll be easy to deal with. For now we have a bag at room temperature with a few ripe ones to encourage "climacteric ripening" courtesy of ethylene gas. We also have two bags at cellar temperature and the remainder outside in a chest cooler which the bears have so far not discovered. This is working well so far.

Dorodango morning

Look at my finished dorodango this morning! Oh my gosh, we are seriously addicted to these things. Talk during polishing of our imperfect balls was of "next time" and "by the time I've made thirty" and "when I get better at this."

We've hatched plans to bring 50 litres of dirt inside for the winter to continue production. Maybe we won't be doing much knitting this year.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


We started making dorodangos today. We had been meaning to try this for a few months. Somehow the summer flew by without us getting to them. Things are fairly quiet this weekend, so we dived in.

We started with the dirt-pile left in front of the deck. It's smaller, but it's still there. We picked up some dirt from the dirt pile. Sieved it into a dishpan. Added some water.
Then we packed the muck into balls that fit in our palms. And patted and juggled and rotated our balls for a while until they started to feel less wet inside. About the duration of a single Teaching Company lecture, which was nice and convenient.
As the dorodango started feeling a bit more solid we began dusting it with little bits of sifted dirt and brushing the excess off. Over and over and over again. Good company helps.

We have three of these things on the go. One is mine, one is Sophie's and one is Fiona's. Erin, off in Calgary, is missing the opportunity of rolling her eyes as we enthuse over our mud balls. Noah offers his own brand of disinterested enthusiasm. Seems like an oxymoron, but he pulls it off.
Finally our dorodangos got firm and dry enough that dirt would no longer stick to them. We set them aside in ziploc bags to rest and "sweat" a little. We want any shrinkage to occur gradually, and before we begin polishing the capsule on the outside.

The balls are curiously heavy and solid-feeling already. This is a very fun project.

We hope to do some polishing tonight and tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ap-pearant bounty

Today we cleaned a pear tree for a seasonal resident. It took four of us an hour and a half to pick about 200 pounds of pears. For the homeowners we're providing a service -- ridding their tree of fruit they can't use and which would attract bears and wasps. We get free fruit if we want, or fruit to donate to community groups.

Whatever shall we do with all these pears? People in this family are not fond enough of pears to justify doing much if any canning.

They need a few days to ripen off the tree. Then I suppose we'll start madly dehydrating them and pressing them to make cider. We did a few gallons of apple cider last week with the early apples. A combination of apple and pear will give a nice tart cider that we can donate to the preschool. But I'm still not sure how we'll use so many!

This is an amazing year for fruit in our area. The huckleberries were lush in the sub-alpine during August and the apple, pear and plum trees are so laden with fruit that their branches are breaking under the weight. And yet the bears have yet to descend from the mountains. Every morning I wake up and check the fruit trees first thing, and every morning they're still bending under the weight of their ripening fruit.

Our Gravenstein apple tree has normally been cleaned of still-small unripe apples by the end of August thanks to ursine visitors. This year the heavy branches are brushing the ground, the apples are so thick they almost seem to outnumber the leaves. And the fruit is juicy and almost maximally sweet.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Whoot! Wheat!

I thought I had missed out. I had tried to buy a share in the Kootenay Grain CSA but hadn't heard back from them last spring. But today at the Garlic Festival I found out they still have a few shares available. I couldn't get out my chequebook fast enough. I paid the better part of $200, but for that price I'll get 140 pounds of organically and locally grown hard spring and hard winter wheat, Red Fife wheat, spelt, khorasan (a.k.a. Kamut®), oats and small green lentils.

"Local" in this instance means the Creston Valley, the closest grain-growing land to us. It's about 100 miles as the crow flies, longer by road. But the grain will be travelling from Creston to Nelson by sailboat, so there is really no environmental cost to the transportation.

I've been following the evolution of this Grain CSA, the first in Canada, on the "Deconstructing Dinner" radio show / podcast for over a year. I'm thrilled to finally be a part of it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

An actual homeschooling day

I use this blog mostly to keep notes about noteworthy things. It's rather telling, then, that I feel compelled to post about the fact that we did some actual homeschooling today. The sort of thing you could write down in a journal, have a teacher-friend or a grandparent or skeptical co-worker look over and they wouldn't immediately feel the need to start "expressing concern" or to call a truant officer. All told today the younger generation in this family:

Practiced violin, viola and piano -- with the small person getting proper parent guidance on both her instruments
Helped make a batch of root beer
Picked and pressed cider from a press-full of apples (3 gallons)
Did various levels of algebra learning
Practiced handwriting
Did a short unit in a language arts workbook
Read some biology
Reviewed the previously-studied written French and moved ahead to new stuff
Played math-friendly board games

Later this evening we'll finish our day with readalouds -- Story of the World Volume 1 (this series of books is in re-runs for Fiona, with Sophie listening along again) and some historical fiction from the "Dear Canada" series.

Now it must be confessed that it was mostly the younger two kids who did this stuff. My layabout teen and pre-teen mostly practiced violin (the former) and fondled the computer mouse (the latter). But still, not everyone is going to be "on" at the same time, on the same day. I'm merely happy that I managed to not only initiate a couple of activities but to respond with enthusiasm and due diligence to requests for school-type things, and still have enough creativity and energy to do a decent job practicing with my kid.

Root beer

We've done ginger beer a few times, using lemons and fresh ginger. It's wonderful and not very complicated at all. I think you can use large plastic soda bottles to bottle it, but for us half the fun is filling and capping all those non-twist-off Corona beer bottles we've been hoarding for years. They've held lagers and ales and most recently batches of ginger beer. Thanks to my friend Rosalie for turning us onto ginger beer!

Today we tried root beer. Traditionally sarsaparilla root was used to make it, but for most of the last century "root beer" has been made from natural and artificial flavours. While we have wild sarsaparilla (sometimes used as a substitute for the Central American variety) growing on our property the kids really just wanted something fun that was similar to, though less sweet than, commercial root beer.

So we started at the beer & wine supply store. We found a bottle of root beer Royal Old Fashioned Soda Extract and basically just used the recipe on the back. We mixed 8.5 Litres of water with 1 kg of sugar. Then we dissolved 1 tsp. of beer yeast in 250 ml of lukewarm water, then pitched that in. Washed and filled the bottles, then capped them. To allow the yeast to develop these bottles stay undisturbed at room temperature for 10 days, and then go to a cool dark location (the shop) until we're ready to drink them.

This root beer will be slightly fizzy, more like beer than soda. If we want more of a fizz, we can use sparkling wine yeast.

Taste test in a couple of weeks!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

First Corazón

First Corazón youth choir rehearsal of the year today. Noah is now part of the choir. He'll be in the 2nd soprano section, as his voice is still young and high. He tried alto briefly today at Allison's suggestion but that's definitely not his range. There's a short performance in 13 days. About 70% of the choir is made up of returning singers, so they'll be singing three songs from last year, and the newbies will just have to do their best to power-learn and be shored up by the veterans.

Everyone was asked to introduce themselves by name and share one thing about themselves. Erin said:

"I'm Erin, and I take the overnight bus from Calgary to get here for rehearsals."


She loved her weekend in Calgary and all her lessons and practice time. Her bus trip home was relatively uneventful. Sharing jellybeans and listening to tales of kidney stones and woe with a seatmate in the middle of the night doesn't count as particularly eventful in Erin's book.

She is a violin maniac these days. Worked on technique exercises on just one string for two and a half hours tonight. Hopes to get to the other three strings tomorrow. Of course tomorrow includes a shift at work and the first day of school, whatever that turns out to be.

Saturday, September 05, 2009


Thursday I left Fiona and Sophie home alone. I was on my way to Calgary with Erin and Noah, it was a nice day, Chuck was supposed to be home any time, and I had a ferry to catch. So I left, which I've done for short stints before, reminding them of various safety issues, of people to call if they needed help. Within the hour a freak windstorm blew up, the power went out, and trees began crashing down around the property. They were "a little bit scared." I'll say. Our house is surrounded by 50-100 ft. trees. We have an arborist friend who had looked them all over last year, felled the older ones that were most at risk of falling on the house. But still. Debris was falling like rain. At least two trees fell within view of the house.

Chuck had managed to phone them (the phone service later went out) and had told him he was on his way home.But the road was closed due to a tree with live wires in it down on the road. He parked, bushwhacked around the tree and hiked home. He got the girls packed up and evacuated them to a friends' place, retracing the bushwhacking with them and their overnight backpacks.

In town the situation was if anything worse, but they were safely with friends now. They quite enjoyed the adventure. They stayed 24 hours with their friends, returning home after the road was cleared and power restored.

The storm brought down dozens of trees around town as well, including many giant cottonwoods and cedars along the lakefront.

Several fell on trailers, sheds, campers and atop or near houses but no one was injured. Beneath this one is the remains of a park bench:

Fiona took me around town today to survey the damage. She was quite excited to show me all the mayhem I had missed.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


When we were preparing the grade in front of our house for the new deck, we had to pull out some old old buried electrical cable. It was encased in 3/4" poly pipe. Old, bedraggled and not good for much.

But Fiona and I had a plan.

We cut a length off the discarded pipe, attached one 79-cent friction-fit connecting piece, and covered the whole thing with colourful spirals of electrical tape.

It's a perfect hula hoop. Everyone is enjoying it.

Fiona is getting pretty good at basic hooping. One of our favourite family diversions is to ask her to walk while hooping, something she can do quite easily now. But while she is doing so we mentally imagine her walking exactly thus without the hoop. This slight mental shift in perception makes the scene hilarious. I've rarely heard Erin laugh so loud and long.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Calgary plans for the year

Our 2009-2010 Calgary planning continues to evolve. Two new bits of the puzzle have fallen into place. First, we think we've found a piano teacher for Erin in Calgary. The wonderful woman who has worked with her a tiny bit as an accompanist to her on violin has expressed enthusiasm for the idea of helping her learn to work as an accompanist on piano. We'll be fleshing out that possibility as we head more into the fall. Erin's keen on the idea of this sort of piano lesson, which would focus on accompaniment parts for repertoire she's likely to be called on to play with her friends back here at home.

The overnight bus back from Calgary arrives in Nelson in the morning. I could pick her up (a three-hour round-trip drive), but four and a half hours later I'd have to turn around and drive her and Fiona and a carload of teenagers back to Nelson for a choir rehearsal and piano lesson. The other puzzle piece comes courtesy of her former piano teacher, who has offered to pick her up at the bus station and let her nap or dump her luggage or practice or vegetate in a corner of her home until I arrive in the afternoon with the rest of the crew. Excellent! This will make all the difference.

Noah seems to be making progress in becoming an effective viola practicer. I hold out hope that his regimen of merely monthly lessons will serve him a little better than it did last year. Overall he had a great summer with lots of success and challenging musical experiences under his belt.

We'll be heading to Calgary this week for the first go 'round of the year. I'll be helping Erin figure out public transit and the bus station rigmarole. She's a seasoned traveller, it's true, but not in North America, and she's always had adults with her in the past. She'll be coming home next week on her own. On the overnight bus. Here's hoping there are no creepy guys on the first trip at least.

Wet and dry

When there's a serious summer thunderstorm outside we can now sit under the eaves on the deck and enjoy it. We've missed this perhaps most of all in the two years since we demolished our decrepit previous deck.

Today's thunderstorm had crazy wild winds, lightning strikes, downed trees and wildfires, the latter necessitating aerial bombing. But most of this happened elsewhere. At home we just enjoyed the show nature put on for us.

My karenagare is doing a fine job of preventing muddy splatters on the deck. Fiona pointed out that it had become a wet Dry Stream Bed. Erin recalled the dry wet rock that welcomes people to main street in our town.