Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Halloween Lights

For Halloween this year the boys & I made 'mummy lanterns.'

They were very easy to set up, make and clean up, and the boys and I are happy with our results.

we started out with a 500ml wide mouth mason jar, they each had a small tub of modge podge, and a paint brush.

Paint the modge podge onto the jar.

wrap the jar in gauze (we had old first aid gauze that we used, but if you used self-sticking gauze, you could probably skip the modge podge).

Add a pair of googly eyes, and put a tealight inside!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Our Adaptation of Amish (Chicken) Turkey Pot Pie

If your family is like ours, you look forward to a turkey feast on at least two of the three big holidays in the year. But if you are like my coworkers, you dread the two weeks of turkey leftovers afterwards. A guy can only be asked to eat so many turkey sandwiches before he goes psycho.

Back in the early married era, I was fortunate to find a fantastic chicken pot pie recipe called "Hingle Pot Pie" in a cookbook by a local Amish lady, Edna Staebler. Edna didn't know her recipe would be adapted into a post-holiday tradition for our family, but I am very happy she published a cookbook. If you are looking for a book full of simple, earthy Amish meat dishes, check out this book.

Since then I've moved away from the St. Jacobs/Kitchener Amish community, but we still go back to visit, and we cook the odd Schnitzel or Saerbraeten. The Amish love down-to-earth cooking with simple ingredients, seasonings and textures. Great meals for the learning cook.

According to Edna, you start this meal by boiling chicken pieces, and reserving the broth, but since we use leftover turkey, no chicken boiling will be necessary. Instead, we start by making the noodle-dumplings that set this pot pie apart from the rest.

Pull out your favourite medium mixing bowl, and combine 2 cups of flour with 2 tablespoons of butter We use margarine because cruelty to cows. Or something. Mix the butter and flour until crumbly. Then add 2 eggs you've beaten into submission. I'm all for cruelty to chicken embryos. The mixture should be starting to resemble biscuit batter. One its a nice thick lump, drizzle enough milk in to make it sticky. Ha-Ha cow babies, no milk for you!. Too much, and you've made glue, too little, and its sticky tack. In the pic below, I am a little on the modge-podge side of just right.

Edna advises to roll this thinly on a floured board. But it never works for me. See - the rolled dough is always bigger than our biggest cutting board. Luckily we have nice smooth countertops that work just as well as a floured board. Eat your heart out Edna!! I roll the dough out on the counter most times. I also flour the countertop and the dough liberally to suck up any excess moisture I may have added in the add milk stage. I never get the milk stage just right.

Once the dough is rolled, the recipe calls for it to be cut into 1-1/2" squares. I could convert that to metric, but I'm too lazy, so I just cut into big rectangles that look like they're about the right size. A butter knife is best for this. You have to roll it along its edge, not drag it through the dough.You can see where I dragged it below - it cuts poorly, and sticks to the dough.

Leave the dumpling dough sit on the counter while you peel a bunch of potatoes and carrots. The recipe advises tender spring peas and carrots, and fresh potatoes, but those are never all in season at the same time. You are either going to have old potatoes and carrots with fresh peas (Spring) or old peas with fresh potatoes and carrots (fall) unless you aren't Amish, and have the miracle of refrigeration... <Singing angel voices> AAAAaaaaaaaAAAAAaaaaa!

Those carrots are monsters. I have no idea where SWMBO found carrots that HUGE! I only needed 1 for our whole family! Anyways peel and chop the carrots, and cut the potatoes as if you are making scalloped potatoes. You should also strip your turkey off the bones and chunk it into bite-sized cubes. Normally I wouldn't make extra dishes for myself, but things photograph better in bowls, so here are our veggies ready for the pot, and the dumplings rested and ready for action. Peas are back in the freezer so they don't thaw out too soon.

See that bowl the carrots are in? That is my Delft bowl. I love that bowl. The carrots have a place of honour in this pic. If you are my kid and you want to get me a super-cool Christmas gift I would love another 3 or 7 of those bowls. They show up in antique shops from time to time. Price point is usually between $10 - $15 and they are perfect for setting aside spices or eggs or whatever, plus they are painted so nice. Love 'em.

Ok, its assembly time... Put a layer of potatoes in the bottom of a dutch oven (all Dads are into cooking with Dutch ovens. Its a known fact.) On top of the potatoes, lay in a layer of noodle-dumplings. Don't grease the pot! I had started to melt butter for something else here, and it didn't work out well. The potatoes got fried.

Next a layer of carrots, followed by peas, sprinkle with salt and pepper, other spices if you want, but we just use salt and pepper for a nice country dinner...

Now add turkey...

And another layer of nooodles and potatoes...

Its turning into a leftover turkey and veggie lasagna!! Now another layer of peas and carrots, followed by a top layer of noodles, and the pot is full.

With the pot full to the top, I add in 2 cups of chicken bouillon plus one cup of water. By the way honey - I used the last bouillon cube. The liquid should come halfway up the pot. Now put a lid on it, set the stove to boil, and then turn it down as soon as it begins to bubble. You want to simmer the pot for a bout half an hour.

When its done, it won't look very pretty. I'll let you dream up some garnishes, but a sprinkle of parsley or a few chopped tomatoes might give it more appeal on the table. Sorry about the bad picture, the tablet tried to focus on steam instead of food.

Serve hot! It will cool quickly. As a bonus, with everything in bite-sized chunks the little guys won't need you to cut their dinner - which is basically like a dinner out.  Here it is plated and ready for eating! The place mat is an anti-gravity model and has to be upside down to work properly. We serve with sour cream and salt and pepper, but really its just fine on its own. Simple country food without a lot of mess or effort - just my kind of meal. It even tastes better the next day as leftovers.

Wait - leftover turkey leftovers that are MORE delicious than turkey leftovers!?! Stop the Press!!!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Birdhouses for Chickadees and Wrens

I had some spare time and scrap lumber on my hands this weekend, so I thought it would be fun to build a couple birdhouses for the kids to paint. If we get these tucked into the espalier this fall, then maybe we can get some birds living back there in the spring, and have some fun with them. I didn't want to spend much cash or time on this, so I went with the simplest designs I could finds, and used materials on hand for the build. I have a total of $7.00 and a couple hours invested in this (thats $2.33 per bird house). I probably could have had it done faster if the wood had been the thickness that the plans called for, but some tinkering was necessary due to the difference in wood.

If these last one season, I'll be a happy guy.

Nest box #1 - the chickadee house. Buddy really liked this design, so who am I to argue, even though it doesn't match my vision... The plan can be found here

I had an old yard sale sign lying around, so it became the lumber. Yay - free lumber!

Glued and nailed using old rusty nails I inherited from SWMBO's Grandpa. Buddy helped to nail it together.

Nailed together and ready for Paint! Bottom not installed - it is removable to clean out the box in the spring.

I'm not sure where I'll hang it. But it does look cute. I wonder how it will look once buddy paints it. Will it get stripes? Polka dots? Of just Waalalalala-Blatherblather-Blab-Ssplunk  Which is the preferred style of 5 year olds everywhere.

Birdhouses 2 & 3 are the style I had in mind when we began. Plans can be found here.

Pieces were cut from a pine plank - it was sold as knotty pine shelving at home depot. If you use shelving boards to build a birdhouse be sure its not the laminated stuff - the glue may not hold up.

Assembled, and front door being installed. I used a 1-1/8" forstner bit in the drill press to open up the door.

Time for the perch. a 3/8" hole and 3/8" dowel. Rusty nails for accent.

I drilled and doweled for a door that can swing open for clean-out on this one, but I'm not happy with how it turned out. I may cut away the back of it and go for a redo. Or not. The birds won't care.

And there you have it - 3 birdhouses ready for paint. One for Buddy to paint, one for Cuppa, and One for Chuck or Mama, or me. 

Just for fun, reply with your bird houses and feeders, or some of the friends you have come visit in your yard. We are overrun with chipmunks and squirrels, but have also had ducks stop by for a swim in our pool, and have seen a few other surprise visitors in the city - luckily none of the coyotes or deer we had to worry about when we lived at the Mighty Tiny Chicken Ranch though!

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Iris heads to bed.

Summer's officially over when the boat is out of the lake. Let autumn begin.

Since we were the second boat lifted out this morning, we had to be at the club before sunrise. It was dark and cold!     Chuck and buddy videoed our haul, and even provided commentary.

Now we need to put a tarp on her and tuck Iris in for her winter nap.

Friday, 18 October 2013

High-Mileage Moose

Our family getaway this summer included a trip to Algonquin park at the family cottage. At the time, I was looking for a Hula Girl to put on the dashboard of the Thunderbuggy to up its quota of tacky ugliness.

We got a moose instead of a Hula Girl. I think we nailed it for the tackiness quota... Nothing beats a moose in a canoe when you need company on the road.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

How Many ____ Does it take to Change a Lightbulb?

Changing a light bulb hardly seems like a blog-worthy post, but in this case, it really really is. Let me give you some background.

A few weeks ago SWMBO came in and told me a lightbulb had burned out on her Buick All_re. It used to be a 2007 Buick Allure (I think its called a LaCrosse in the states), but that was before the incident that saw the 'u' fall off the back of the car. Also the letters from the dealer sticker fell off so it now says 'URGE' across the back of the car where it used to say SURGENOR, but I may have helped that one along.

In any case back to the headlights. This isn't a car blog, and this car is hardly blog-worthy. Its just a grocery-getter, stripped down with the most basic options, but it has pleased us, and so the headlight debacle surprised me, and I post this as a PSA for others with similar designed vehicles trying to change a light bulb.

A few days after SWMBO told me about the dead light, I ran to our local NAPA and bought a replacement bulb for $20.00 (Wow! that was more than I expected!) and popped the hood to replace the bulb. This is what I found...

The headlight housing has a pop-out in the back for access to the bulb. Its a twist off and seems fairly innocuous, until you realize that it only reaches the high beams. To replace the low-beam, which is the more likely bulb to fail you are going to have a hard time. The low beam is the outboard light, the one closer to the curb, and the pop-out for it is firmly seated against the steel cross member that forms the front of the engine bay. I really didn't have time to fiddle so I left it for 'later' and set to work with other things.

Then the light on the other side went out, and I couldn't procrastinate any longer. That's where this blog post comes in. I was so amazed at the level of complexity required to change the lightbulbs on this car that I figured I would share it so other Allure drivers left stranded on the side of the road in the middle of the night would at least have a fighting chance at changing a headlight. Here we go...

You are going to need a handful of tools for this job. As a minimum, you need to following:
  • 10mm wrench or socket wrench
  • Prybar or claw hammer
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Nitrile Gloves

Start by removing the plastic clip that attaches the bumper cover to the top of the headlight assembly. To remove this, pull up on the centre button of the clip with the pliers or a pry bar, leaving the larger piece behind. The centre acts as a wedge to force the outside into place. Once you have the centre button out, the rest of the clip will come out easily. Put it someplace where you won't lose it. By the time this job is done, you will have 4 or 5 items in that place, so if you have a parts bowl that would be handy. I used the socket kit as a storage container.

Next remove the bolt at the back of the headlight housing. You will need the 10mm socket for this. It shouldn't be done up too tight, but it is a long bolt. it has to come all the way out. 

Bolt removal underway:

Next in line is another fender clip. Once again remove the centre first, then pop off the outer clip. This one is a little trickier though since the centre pin is recessed into the circle formed by the clip...

With that done, its time to remove the headlight housing. The white plastic tang in the photo above, and the black metal tab that the first bolt we removed went through both have cutouts in the back that accept a receiver in the headlight housing. In order to remove the housing, you have to pull up both the plastic tab and metal tang. The plastic one is easily lifted by hand, however we found that the only way to raise the metal one was to use the claw end of the hammer to pry up the metal tang. Be sure the hammer is seated on a steel crossmember and not plastic, or you may break something very expensive.With the tangs lifted, and the pop-outs aligned in the back of the light, gently ease the housing forward while pulling the bumper trim away from the light.

In the pic above, you can see both tangs raised, and I'm pulling away the bumper trim. The circles around the bottom of the light will hold on, and the steel fender will make it difficult to remove the light. It will take some gentle persuasion and wiggling to get the light to come free of the car. Be careful not to break the housing though unless you have a couple hundred dollars for a new one.

With the housing free, you can finally get at the back of the lights to replace the bulb. Remove the round protective cover by twisting it off (1/4 turn is all it takes) and the light will be inside.

Twist the light 1/4 turn and it will come free of the socket. Then pull back the barbs on either side for a standard replacement. Pretty normal connector for most GM electric. You are now ready to put in your new bulb.

Since these cars take halogen bulbs, put on a pair of nitrile gloves before taking the bulb out of the box. If you handle the bulb with your bare hands, you will considerably shorten its life. The nitrile gloves will prevent the oils on your skin from contacting the light, and will allow you to handle them as if with your bare hands. Just be careful not to cut through the gloves with metal bits around the base of the bulb.

For assembly, just do the reverse to get everything back together, once again being very careful not to damage the headlight housing. 

So why does this bother me? well, hardly anyone has this array of tools in their car, and even if they had a spare headlight, it is unlikely that in snow or rain this much work could realistically be expected of a normal person on the side of the road. Certainly, there are some guys (like my friend Jim) who have changed a timing belt on the freeway, but those guys are few and far between. The safety factor of it being impossible to change the lightbulb could be huge if you lost that light far from home on unfamiliar roads. 

I understand that vehicle manufacturers want to see folks more and more dependent on their service departments, but this is just silly. It looks like we need to equip our car with a basic tool set in case of more hidden gems in the basic fixit family.

Good luck on your repair, and stay safe on the road!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Backyard Then and Now

This weekend it was time to close the pool, which is a shame since I never got around to an 'After' pic of the yard after all our work on it. We can't really call these 'after' pics since we still haven't figured out how we are connecting paths from the house to the pool and we don't have a lawn, but here it is today. It has changed a bunch back there, and overall I think we are all pleased with things.

So here is what the yard looked like 14 months ago when we bought the house:

Come to think of it... we may have more lawn now than there was back then. Note the use of rotted timbers as a retaining wall, the beauty of the cedar trees overhanging the pool, and the cracked and heaved concrete deck. Pic below is late last summer with the pool opened and goldenrod in bloom.

Here it is today...

Since these pictures were taken during pool closing, the stairs are up on end etc. but you can at least get a feel for the scale of the work that has taken place this summer.

So far we have removed and replaced all plantings along the fence, including building and planting an espaliered apple orchard (14 trees from Siloam Orchards) as detailed here. For foundation plantings we have a mix of Hardy hydrangea, daylily, hostas (suffering due to too much sun), iris - at least 3 varieties - and a bunch of other stuff mostly rescued from our last house, or from the beds when we dug them out. 

Fenceline Garden and deck:

We removed the deck ourselves and had it replaced with Brooklin Brick products. The border is Barnboard Pavers and the field is something that was on the discount pile. Not sure what the intended colour or pattern was, but the price was right. Hardscaping was done by Ryan at Dreamscape Landscaping, with materials sourced by us.

The pool coping and liner was replaced by Ewing Pools, using stock coping (not sure what the pattern is) and a Gulf Coast Gold Pebble liner from Premier. Although the water isn't perfect you can see the pattern pretty well in the pic below. This liner does an outstanding job of hiding algae, which comes as a mixed blessing. It's nice that the algae doesn't show, but it's embarrassing when you jump in and the bottom is slimy. We need to vac the pool more regularly.

The new retaining wall was installed by us using Colonial Buff block from Brooklin Brick. It is nice having a locally produced product with a retail outlet on premises. We used the barnboard as our capstone for the wall.

An ongoing challenge for us will be the chipmunk colony that had undermined the previous pool deck. They are still there, despite the disturbances of the reno. Talking to neighbours, we can expect them to stay for some time. It seems as though chipmunks have always been part of this neighbourhood.

A final shot showing the view from the shallow end - including the pipe draining the pool, cloudy water due to closing schemicals, and the floaties from the trees losing their leaves.

In the spring we will be completing the fence, building a pool shed, and hopefully have a new lawn. We may also expand the patio where the BBQ is for better function, and put up a pergola across the back of the house. Thats all in the 'maybe' file for now though.