Post #3202: The week as it was

First week back after holidays, and it has been wall-to-wall things over here at Birdsong. Brian was on the mainland all week so that left me to start wrangling things back into shape. Suddenly it’s Friday!

Food: For the first time in at least two years (probably longer) I did a meal plan for the week. Because it’s just the two of us, I had fallen into the “why bother” with meal planning – but wow, I forgot how well that works even if it’s just me kicking around here.

The benefits of meal-planning for me are threefold: I actually try new recipes, I have the ingredients on hand, and I build my plan around the pantry and freezer stock that we already have so I use stuff up. I’ve been using the app AnyList for awhile, and it’s the best tool I’ve found for meal planning and shopping. You can import recipes, make meal plans, and create grocery lists from those plans – it’s really facilitated some fantastic meals this week (including Miso-Glazed Black Cod with Saffron Rice, a fantastic tuna melt, a farro salad, stuffed acorn squash and a thai-quinoa bowl). We have a temporary roommate who I’ve been cooking for and he has declared me the winner of dinner this week. It’s been pretty great.

The picture above is from a fish filleting session yesterday after my friend Jenn picked up fish for her and I at the government wharf on Wednesday night. We have been buying from Island Wild, who I highly recommend if you want to support a local fishing family on Vancouver Island. Buying whole fish is by far the least expensive way to get it in your freezer, and the skills needed to do the filleting are all on youtube. Since the pandemic, and the bottom falling out of the restaurant industry, we are seeing more fish in our local communities and I am grateful for that return to being able to eat from our ecosystem.

Textiles: Got nothing here this week, other than a tiny bit of work on a top I’m making. I have been obsessed, however, with the idea of making a bodysuit or two – so I’ve downloaded and printed the Rowan pattern (snaps at the crotch – so smart) which looks like a pretty quick make. I’m going to finish the top this weekend and then it’s time for some serious sewing. My fall and winter wardrobe is lacking at the moment. I seem to have a lot of workout clothes (ie: t-shirts) and nothing else.

Work: Returned to work after holidays. Hated it for one whole day, then relaxed and I’m back in the swing of things. Yesterday I held my first union meeting since the start of the pandemic, over MS Teams – it was a bit epic but I got through it and people showed up! I have a huge amount of stuff to get through between now and the winter holidays – a big staffing process, setting up a new project, onboarding a new person on my team – but I’m getting recognition for my work, and my leadership is supportive, these are things that make a difference after years of poor leadership and no acknowledgement.

Fitness: I have been really on track with my goals this week. Since Sunday I’ve been for three runs, had two weight lifting sessions (third one today), and done a couple of at-home yoga classes. I’ve instituted 30 minute fitness breaks into my work day at 9 am – noon in Ottawa when all my colleagues break for lunch and 3 hours into my work day. That’s when I either go for a run around the neighbourhood or put on an online yoga class (I’ve been into Glo Yoga lately after years of Yoga with Adriene. I love her but I wanted more variety of instructors.) I am in a maintenance phase with weight training which means I get to lift at levels that are enjoyable for awhile; it feels good to be back at the gym.

Notable: The biggest thing this week is that I’m getting my car back today! It’s been at the dealership for 5 months due to a defect in the battery, and because it’s an electric car, that is tantamount to replacing a whole engine. The battery took months to get here for reasons that are not clear to anyone involved in the process on my end – but it’s done! And I’m going to Nanaimo this morning to pick it up. I hate to be so attached to a physical object, but I *love* my car and I’m so happy to be getting it back. (Pictured below the day I brought it home in May 2019).

Post #3201: First Friday Check-In

Over the years of writing this blog (seventeen or so now), I have come to realize that its main value to me is as a record of my life, a place to store recipes and reflections, sewing projects and fitness plans so I can dip back into them later on. I have tried this in various paper formats over the years, but the only place where I’ve consistently (albeit irregularly) documented my life, is here.

I have a desire to return to this space more regularly, and I do like the diary this blog represents. Motivated by that, I am trying something new in the form of a weekly check-in – a simple prompt about what’s happening in different parts of my life that I might want to return to later. This approach is inspired by a friend of mine who publishes a paper creative journal which has a weekly check-in that explores creative elements in one’s life. I kept up with those journals for close to a year before petering out on them. I would like to return to that format here and see how it sticks.

I was going to wait to start this until a normal week (we’re just finishing up two weeks of holidays spent mostly at our rural cabin), or January for the beginning of the year feel – but that is too much of a *thing* somehow – so I’m just going for it now:

Food: Autumn makes me recipe-crazy, but because we’ve been away from home mostly all I can do is plan. In particular I’ve been researching fish recipes because just before coming away I bought an 11 pound halibut, 2 black cod and 2 yelloweye rockfish (red snapper) from our community supported fishery and packaged them into the freezer. I have another halibut coming shortly after arriving home – so it’s going to be a winter of fish eating (in addition to venison, pork and lamb which our freezer is stuffed with at the moment).

We did get real appliances at the cabin just in time to make Thanksgiving dinner with our cabin partners last Saturday – something we have been planning to do since we bought this property seven years ago.

Textiles: I brought a knitting project along with me on the trip, but really haven’t made much headway because it’s miles of stockinette and I’m bored. Along the way I picked up some materials from Aster and Vine, (out of Rossland, BC) and crocheted a basket which was quick and fun – and gives me something to put my knit project in when I’m not working on it.

Work: Today marks the end of two weeks of desperately-needed holidays from work which we spent in the interior of BC, mostly at our cabin. I have a mountain of work awaiting my return to the “office” some of which includes a big hiring process that I somehow became responsible for as well as shepherding a web project to its end. I’m not looking forward to any of it but at least I’m employed doing something I’m good at. These are things to be grateful for in these unsettled economic times. 

Fitness: We brought a few weights to the cabin so we could do some strength training but what’s been more interesting to me on this trip is my desire to run around the lake every other day. I’m not a runner, but my fitness overall has improved so much in the last year that I find myself *able* to run without dying and I’m intrigued by that. The first three runs around the lake, I took a shortcut through the trails for a 3.75 run. On my last run (yesterday), I went all the way around on the road for a full 4 km in under 30 minutes (27 min for the 3.75 km, 29 min for the 4 km). This is the longest continuous running I have done in years and I’m proud of getting back to a fitness level where I can do it. Maybe I’ll even fit a couple runs a week into my regular workout schedule this winter.

Notable: The photo at the head of this post is from last week’s journey into the East Kootenays where we encountered (among other things) the headwaters of the Columbia River which are right outside Canal Flats, BC (on the way to Invermere from Cranbrook). Neither of us had been up that way before and were struck by the beauty of the countryside, especially in the bright fall skies. I found it moving to stand at the head of one of the greatest rivers on the west coast, one fraught with history and environmental damage, one that has given so much life to the Pacific Northwest. 

As I post this, we are returning to our home on Gabriola Island after watching fall turn towards winter in the interior. It’s been a beautiful time in which I truly managed to take a break from work and union responsibilities, sleep in and read a bunch of books, as well as get some work done for a non-profit I volunteer for (more on that soon). 

Post #3200: Autumn Goodness in the Form of Cake

After a frenetic summer of work, followed by a September of work and tons of food prep and canning – I finally have arrived at a couple of weeks off which we are spending partly at our cabin, and partly in the Kootenays since we won a 2-night stay at Fairmont Hotsprings which we plan to use this week. Before heading out yesterday I baked a loaf of sourdough bread to bring along, and since I had some extra big King apples in the fruit bowl decided on this apple cake which I adapted from a recipe at Food.com. After dinner last night we cut into it, and it is definitely a keeper recipe! Not too sweet with streusel topping, and the coriander and ginger gives it a more interesting flavour profile than one often finds in spice cakes.

Apple Sourdough Spice Cake with Pecan Topping

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon, ginger powder, coriander, and ground cloves
  • 1 cup sourdough starter (discard is fine, doesn’t need feeding)
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1 1/2 cups apples, peeled and diced
  • Pecan topping
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/3 cup oats
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon

Directions

  1. Set oven to 375 F and grease an 8 x 8 baking pan.
  2. Mix flour, salt, soda and spices together evenly.
  3. Make a well in the center and pour sourdough starter, oil, beaten egg and honey. Stir gently to mix all ingredients through.
  4. Add diced apples and stir gently.
  5. Pour batter into prepared baking pan.
  6. Mix all topping ingredients, breaking the butter into pea-sized bits with hands or a fork. Spread topping evenly on the top of the cake batter.
  7. Bake for 50 minutes.

Post #3199: Loom Tales

I bought a new loom this month. You can see her above – she’s a Berga Savonia countermarch, made by a Finnish company called Varpapuu. From what I can tell, the company went out of business long before the Internet existed (instructions kicking around are hand-drawn and typewritten), but this loom hasn’t lost anything to age and the finish remains as new. She is 39 inches of weaving width, set up as an 8-shaft/10-treadle with the capacity to expand to 10 shafts (the jacks are there, I would just need to purchase shaft bars and lamms) – and a sectional beam which is a new feature for me.

This loom came to me through a weaver who lives up the road from me on Gabriola Island. We have been talking about it for over a year. At first I thought I wasn’t interested because for awhile I imagined I wanted a loom with much wider weaving width. While that was going on, I was moving towards getting rid of the first loom I ever acquired (the 45 inch hand-built countermarch I had restored every inch of) and that I did not love weaving with. This was difficult not only because of the amount of time I had invested over several years, but also because big old looms with shaky provenance are difficult to sell. In the end I near-gave it away to a young art student stuck at her parent’s place on-island at the start of the pandemic.

So by April, my loom-space was free and I was ready for whatever loom came next. The weaver up the road with the Berga was not interested in selling then because she wanted to sell the other loom in her space first, so I let it go and thought about maybe trying to save up for a Louet Spring (beautiful looms but outrageously out of my price range). Through the spring and summer, I barely wove at all anyway – I had one project on the Julia for all that time (a sauna towel for my husband that I just finished last week).

But at the start of this month, I got a message asking if I was interested in coming to take a look at the Berga. Before I even got there, I knew it would be the right thing, right now. As much as I have dreamed about wider projects or more complicated weaves, I only have so much time for weaving, and only so much space in my studio I am ready to give to it. The Berga not only is near-identical to my 26-inch Glimakra Julia, seriously reducing the learning curve, but fits perfectly into my studio without reducing the sewing space I need for garment-making and my home office.

Although I don’t have the equipment that makes warping a sectional beam easier, I did get a 3.5 yard warp on last week by winding and chaining two-inch-wide sections and then beaming them individually (crank and yank method). To start out I decided on a plain weave project threaded on all eight shafts – face cloths using a boucle weft – simple to weave, giving me a chance to just feel out the loom.

So far, so good – she weaves beautifully and set up was no worse or more complicated than the Julia. I do want to change the treadle tie up style, and have ordered black and white pony beads to better indicate upper/lower lamms to do that.

I have ordered an AVL warping wheel which will get delivered sometime in October. This will facilitate direct-warping onto the sectional beam and reduce some of the warping time and stress. But before then I plan to weave off these cloths and start a bathmat – another short-warp that I believe I can manage through the more labour intensive process I’ve devised for now.

I’m really happy I allowed myself to get rid of the loom that was no longer serving me to make room for this one. That first loom was a big teacher for me – having to take apart and put back together a countermarch loom taught me a lot about the equipment I would have never learned another way. It wasn’t wasted effort, and recognizing that it wasn’t a loom I wanted to weave on very much helped me appreciate what features I did want in a loom. The Berga, has all of those features – easily removable beams, ratchet and pawl brakes, lamms on two different levels, and “doorways” in the back that make it easy to access the insides (and wind on the sectional alone). I am really in love with this loom, and can’t wait to experiment with its full range of possibility.

Post #3198: Pickling Beets

A friend up the hill says to me, “feel free to come and harvest my garden anytime, I’m not eating enough of it.” And so after the gym last Friday we go over there, crack a beer and get to work pulling carrots and beets out of the ground, picking blackberries and beans. Some of those beets were monsters and I brought home enough for a double batch of my favourite recipe for doing beets which comes from Bernardin. Two nights ago the same friend shows up and helps with make eleven jars of beet pickles (doubling the recipe below). Heart to heart conversation while we worked, a light rain started up but never drowned us out as we finished in the fading light of late summer.

Beet & Onion Pickles
Yield: Makes about 5 pint jars
Processing Time: 30 Minutes

INGREDIENTS:
8 cups (2000 ml) prepared beets, about 4 lb (1.8 kg)
5 cups (750 ml) sliced onions, about 3 medium
2 -1/2 cups (625 ml) cider vinegar
2 cups (500 ml) granulated sugar
1 -1/2 cups (375 ml) water
1 tbsp (15 ml) mustard seed
1 tsp (5 ml) Each: salt, whole allspice and whole cloves
6 inch (15 cm) cinnamon stick

DIRECTIONS:

  • Scrub beets and trim all but 2 inches (5 cm) off stems; do not cut off roots. Cook beets in boiling water, until tender, about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove from water and allow to cool slightly. Remove skins by easily slipping off beets. Slice into rounds or cut into chunks – however you like them.
  • Combine onions, vinegar, sugar, water, mustard seed, salt, allspice, cloves and cinnamon sticks in a large stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a boil; boil gently 5 minutes. Add beets and return to a full boil. Remove from heat. Discard cinnamon sticks.
  • Pack beets into a hot jar to within 3/4 inch (2 cm) of top of jar. Add hot liquid to cover beets to within 1/2 inch (1 cm) of top of jar (headspace). Using nonmetallic utensil, remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if required, by adding more beets and hot liquid. Wipe jar rim removing any food residue. Centre hot sealing disc on clean jar rim. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight. Return filled jar to rack in canner. Repeat for remaining beets and hot liquid.
  • When canner is filled, ensure that all jars are covered by at least one inch (2.5 cm) of water. Cover canner and bring water to full rolling boil before starting to count processing time. At altitudes up to 1000 ft (305 m), process –boil filled jars – 30 minutes.
  • After cooling check jar seals. Sealed discs curve downward and do not move when pressed. Remove screw bands; wipe and dry bands and jars. Store screw bands separately or replace loosely on jars, as desired. Label and store jars in a cool, dark place.
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