Today made it official The clamor of geese – flocks of red wings- racing robins the cardinal song and the promise of melting ice- Spring beckons as the sap flows and I feel pure joy as I can buy liquid gold, maple syrup from local producers. It is officially Spring but an ice storm just passed through and coated the land. I could hear the ice make the branches of the trees sing.
This is time of year I look back over the passage of winter on the farm. I take stock of the effects from the months of cold and ice. It is not damage control but damage assessment. There is always a cautionary tale to be told. Living in the country certainly presents a different side to what winter brings and means. My children who are city dwellers routinely called to check to see if I was snowed in or if I had electricity. Yes I should buy a generator as I promised to do last year.I keep waiting for a sale but generators never seem to go on sale. We are only about an hour and a half away from the city but it is an entirely different weather situation. We had the great fortune of a fairly easy winter on the farm. Having said that, there were some disasters as well. There was some very cold weather and my pipes froze a few times, there were power outages and yes I was snowed in with no way out.
Despite my serious mice problem, I had sworn off cats after having and losing 5. Two feral cats adopted me and appointed me as their mother and cat concierge. I hate the smell of cat food and the cleaning of kitty litter- but one night when it was 35 below my heart melted and I opened the front door. The cat rushed in and the rest is history.
There were so few sunny days that I barely got any photography time. I was only able to get out to Nordic ski once with my family. My boots never got inside my snow shoes, I will have to wait until next year. The skates sat out on the porch but I never had a chance to use them as there were no outdoor rinks open due to a lack of steady below freezing temperatures. The ice did not freeze on Georgian bay so we were the subject of lots of lake effect snow.
The septic tank flooded my basement. I never realized what it meant to have a septic tank system. Living on a farm you constantly learn new things- mostly the hard way. Another well earned lesson – have a supply of stored water in case your pipes freeze. Hair dryers on the pipes don’t work but they did help to make the fuses blow.
When I bought my farm I was never given any information about the inner workings. To this day I curse the real estate agent. He was paid far more commission than he deserved and I know he had fun spending my money. When the basement flooded at midnight he decided to drop by and while I was knee deep in water he casually asked me if I knew where the switch was to turn off the water. Somehow I thought he was the one who should know, he sipped on a scotch and left us to figure it out. I don’t even know the property lines, nor where any of the electrical switches to turn all the lights on over the property. Please learn from my experience – there is much more to learn about a rural property with three outbuildings. I have no idea where to turn the electrical fence on. The previous owners had a real thing for lights – they are everywhere there is that is like a standard which lights up the entire farm house part of the property like a baseball diamond. I am such a miser with electricity I only turned it on once.
I learned that it is important to have a cash float of about a hundred dollars, so that when you are snowed in you can pay the fellow who digs you out. I also must salute the local cab drivers that arrive in a heart beat to get you to the grocery store. Of course I love to give the driver a cash tip.
This winter when I was left on my own for a few weeks I had some “survival” skills to perfect. I finally learned how to build and tend a fire- sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much. I learned it was important to have dry and warm birch bark and kindling and plenty of it. I burned though my two week supply of birch bark in just four days. I also learned it is nice to have fire starters as a back up when that stubborn fire refuses to catch. However the chemical accelerant does not create a steady fire and the smoke it generates smells of chemicals. I also learned that no one will come plow you out unless you had a seasonal contract. Thankfully our car repair fellow drove thirty miles to plow me out – all for the promise of an apple strudel. Thank god for being able to settle a debt with food and for the kindness of humans.
As for my culinary winter I had a very successful season. I felt thoroughly rewarded by using the produce that I had preserved. When I opened my mason jars of tomatoes they brought back the sensation of tasting a ripe red tomato right off the vine. The pickles and salsas brightened up the winter meals just as the preserved hot peppers that seemed to make their way onto every dish. I love bottling summer and nothing tasted as delicious for me as the jams and jellies that I made to eat with my freshly baked bread.
This winter, and spending much time indoors I finally mastered bread and it’s many iterations. I developed dozens of recipes including: Georgian Bay Farmhouse Granola,Giant Chewy Oatmeal and Chocolate Chip Cookies and Scones to name a few. I contributed to Capper’s magazine as a blogger, submitted monthly recipes to Snapp’d, joined Canadian Women in Food. I am very happy to announce that I am about to publish my first in a series of cookbooks called The Power of Ten. It is a series based on a lifetime in professional kitchens and in my own. I want to share with you ten recipes that you can count on. Ten recipes you can master that will give you “Kitchen Confidence”.
I had the great pleasure of hosting a local chili contest. I tasted a wide interpretation of what the perfect chili should be. None of them tasted like my mother’s it was one of her specialties. While in junior high as head of the Gourmet Club she came to school to demonstrate, I was so proud of her.
I was never happier than when my family and friends visited me over the winter. We shared memorable meals, memories , ideas and even had a few spats over the card table. My younger brother told me I was cheating at a game he had never played before. Imagine that, and I was the one who was teaching him the rules.As one of eight kids I know that family dynamics never change and we shared a laugh over it. It was a treat to have my nephew come to the farm to sketch and we had many lively discussions. I always feel sad when my guests leave and have to reach for a hankie to dry my tears. I always look forward to the next visit.
I filled my windows with orchids that were on sale and started basil, parsley and tomato plants. I remain undecided about how large of a garden I will plant and tend this year after last year’s disaster. Last fall I was committed to never planting another vegetable or plant but as I see hints of green and snow drops and crocii dotting my garden my hear is warming and my conviction is weakening.
I am now finished looking backward and have set my sights on the glorious awakening of life that lies ahead. I love watching how the layers of wildlife, flora and fauna develop and weave together to form a tapestry of life. To me I see it as a solo artists that combine and form a Spring Chorus- I know there will be many challenges and rewards looking ahead. I ask my self which set of abandoned babies will grace my farm and worry me so? I look forward to catching that first glimpse of a faun and the first scent of the hyacinths and lilacs. I have already chosen the vase that I will place the first of the muscari into. Will those tulip bulbs that I planted last fall push through the dirt this spring? Or did the red squirrels fuel themselves with the bulbs to make it through the winter. The once dull turkeys are now very colorful and are displaying and beginning to disperse. Soon they will vanish for months and reappear proudly and cautiously with their poults in the summer.
I am grateful for this life and for the presence of family, friends and community. I am a blessed woman. Now to tend to the fire and feed the birds and to put that loaf of bread into the oven. And oh yes let the cat out-