Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city is hip and urban – and you can, too.

Month: November 2012

Wild birds need water in winter

I enjoy looking after the birds out back. Even out front, as the Virginia creeper produced berries that the starlings raided one day. Enough berries remain that the house sparrows come and get some from time to time.

It’s good to have plants that produce food for birds, and also a water source. Since September, pairs and trios of chickadees come by, and I’ve seen many different warblers come and have a prolonged drink in my pond. My pond is what makes my backyard home to so many creatures, besides myself.

So today, I heard a bird out there that sounded unusual, but I couldn’t see it. I’m reasonably sure it was a Northern Cardinal again, but if it was a Downy Woodpecker, as has happened before, I hope he or she comes back. I hope some Dark-eyed Juncos and some Common Redpolls visit, or at least a White-throated Sparrow, as one stayed at my feeder for a week a couple of winters ago.

Continue reading

A day to make red pepper jelly – Gelée de piments rouges

On Monday morning, I had planned out an awesome Homestead day. The weather was beautiful so I was only lacking one person and one tool (a post-pounder, an auger, or a sharp-shooter) for finally replacing my rustic-unchic front fence. This is the kind of fence I want, minus the barbed wire, but instead, I’ve got a roll of welded wire, which should look something like this when done. I’ve got nice round cedar fence posts from the country, not square city fence posts.

Being one person too short (yes, I am one person and, at 5’4″, too short, but here I mean too few), I mucked about with what remained of putting the garden to bed for winter, and covered the rose bushes. (Yes, I have rose bushes. I barely deserve them. So rarely does one have what one deserves!)

In so doing, I got stung by a wasp on the fleshy part of my left hand. That put a stop to further garden work. It also put a stop to chopping, so I didn’t tackle the red pepper jelly until today.

These beautiful red “piments rouges” peppers – which doesn’t translate into pimentos, which are stumpier – came courtesy of the grocery store, which is so kind as to give me, the bunny lady, their trimmings and vegetables destined for la poubelle. I gave a few peppers to the rabbits (they were not so spicy as to be a problem) before I thought to make jelly out of them. 

Red pepper jelly, in case you didn’t know, is a great addition to any cheese or cold cut sandwich.

L'encyclopedie de la Cuisine Canadienne by Jehanne Benoit and Mrs. Appleyard's Family Kitchen
Jehanne Benoit’s “l’encyclopedia de la cuisine canadienne,” beside Mrs. Appleyard’s Family Kitchen. (I’ve since replaced the cabinet shelves with glass. But the same books remain!)

I found the recipe easily enough in my collection of cookbooks from yesteryear – which are, bar none, the best cookbooks if you’re into the idea of local food. When I cannot find a pickle or preserve suggestion in my mother’s old stash, I go straight to Jehane Benoit’s Encyclopedie de la cuisine canadienne. Between this book and Mrs. Appleyard’s Family Kitchen, I have the historical stories and recipes of my entire region’s local food before the globalization glut that landed cantaloupe on every restaurant breakfast plate in the month of March, and the concomitant assumption that the food supply chain takes care of everything so that all we have to do is choose. — Hobby horse ends here for now.

Red pepper jelly recipe in French – along with many others

The recipes are diverse and simple. On this page, you can see quince (coings), mint (menthe fraîche), parsley (persil), lemon verbena (vervaine), and sage (sauge) jelly. Most if not all of these will be eaten with cheese or meats, so it’s no surprise that they’re on the same page as red pepper jelly.

However, it also has a recipe for (swoon!) currant and elderflower jelly (groseilles aux fleurs du sureau). I’m half-Danish, and when I first had elderflower juice in Copenhagen (København) it struck a chord with me that I knew this and I’d had it before, though I could not say how or where.

But as Swedish venture would have it, one can now get it at IKEA. And you can get elderflower or elderberry tea at the Polish bakery.

So I’m making the jelly today. The peppers are drying out, on the old side, so they were fabulously easy to de-string and seed, though more difficult to chop. The wasp-stung hand had some work to do. Presently I’m waiting for the four hours to elapse for the peppers to sit in salt.

Since I'm using sugar here, here's a blog post about that.

Did you know that Windsor is next to Detroit, where they have a huge salt mine? It’s worth seeing the Time photo essay. Yet despite the Windsor mine being in Windsor, Windsor Salt‘s headquarters are near me, in Pointe Claire, QC. Sadly – and preventably!their building kills birds. I’ll still buy their salt but I want them to fix their windows and landscaping.

Now that the jelly’s done, here’s a belle photo. The one with the ingredients is more illustrative than a Bernardin jar with pretty red contents, but which one do you see in a magazine?

Le voilà! 

Red pepper jelly in 250 mL Bernardin jars

Things I’m up to, this November

It’s a good thing I haven’t updated in  a month, because the posts would have been obsessed with squirrels. (No squirrels for you! Trust me, I’ve got pictures.) They are under strict (oh well, not so strict) rationing of two to three chestnuts per day.

The two boys – Rufus and Clyde – know me well. Clyde dominates Rufus, but Rufus seems to be more like a pet. A smaller squirrel comes by and I chuck it a chestnut that it fails to notice, because squirrels are not super-scenters like dogs are, it seems.

We had our first frost a couple of nights ago. The swiss chard is surviving, as it usually does, but its days are numbered. I’ll be eating more of it in the coming weeks. The rabbits are getting peevish about getting old tomato leaves, but I’m also giving them juicy wilted nasturtiums. The green tomatoes are in a box in the garage, still on their vines, and the ones in the kitchen are turning red.  Continue reading

Rewilding is about converting your lawn to groundcover (bit by bit!) to native species. This fosters biodiversity. It also creates habitat for urban wildlife. Finally, you'll only trim it 2-3 times per season rather than every 7-10 days!

The green driveway gallery shows you how you can DIY a driveway conversation using my first model as an example. There are other ways to do it, and things I learned in the process and afterward. Please call me at 514-815-5163 for my landscaping service, or to discuss upgrading your driveway.

The work season is April 1st through June 30th, but I install bird strike prevention (to stop birds from crashing into windows and glass balconies) whenever the temperature is above 5ºC. Call the number above or email. It's important to do this earlier rather than later,  in time for bird migrations in late April to end of May, and late August to mid-October.

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