Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Best Birthday Ever?

     There must be something in the air these days. I have been mulling over birthdays for a bit. My mother's just passed, I welcomed in the fall with a friend's birthday dinner on the 23rd, my grandfather's 90th is fast approaching, as is mine, the "Kitchen's" first and a score of others. Amelia's post this week over at Bon Appetempt was on her thirtieth and my cousin aka RoryBore's Coffee Chat topic this week is best birthday ever. What is going on?

     I love birthdays, all of them. I'm going to be a bit off topic for the coffee chat because I don't think I can pick a "best", they all are. What's not to like?

      Only on your birthday can you be silly, spoiled and pampered with no one raising an eyebrow. As a matter of fact it is almost mandatory and they sing for you too. You have made it through another year, one more step on that journey we call life. Older, yes, wiser?? well....

     It is the time to celebrate, get together with friends and family, toast your successes, moan over failures and then look forward to the coming year, decade, whatever. Screw the carbs, eat cake, drink a bit too much, indulge a little. You deserve it after all.

     On the more serious side, it is also a time of reflection. Looking back to see where you've been, who was with you, then charting your course for the future. It is usually only on my birthday that I'm aware of how much I've changed over the year, the decade or my life this far. Silly things like, "Did I really gain that much weight" (Yes, I really did LOL), a little more serious, " Was I really ever that naive/ insufferable (Yep, I was/am) to the deeper "What do I want my life to stand for?" or " Am I the person I want/ed to be?" (Uhmmm) The passing of time is the only way for us to gain any perspective on our lives, assessing and re assessing our hopes, dreams and aspirations. Birthdays are the perfect little stops on the way, with cake, iced cream, and sometimes goofy little hats.

     Whether I'm celebrating my own, planning a friend's, finding that perfect gift or toasting an achievement, I really do enjoy them all. It is like little mini Christmas celebrations scattered all through the year, often with the same wrapping paper.

     What's not to love about that?



Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Horsey Set

     This is a busy time of year. Lots of canning, prepping the house and gardens for a long Canadian winter and thinking of what to do for the holidays (and birthdays) on the horizon.

     I did find time to squeeze in a weekend doing something I haven't done for years, watching my aunt compete at a horse show. It brought back so many great memories.

     As kids, we all rode. A bunch of hooligans on our ponies playing tag in the "sallies", trail rides, playing cowboys and Indians, the whole thing. As we got older, many of us were carted around the country side to various county fairs to show our horses usually with my grandfather. Bedrooms, tackrooms, kitchens and sunporches were decorated wth our trophies and ribbons.

     My aunt Deb is the only one of us competing these days and it was her I went to watch at the North American Police Equestrian Championships, NAPEC for short. She is the mounted unit in Kingston so her and Donovan were in the city, her husband Brad, my mother, aunt Susan, cousin Wendy and I all in tow. It was a blast.

Deb, the police look
Geared up and looking very serious
on Donovan

There's the smile

     The first day was the equestrian part, all the technical bits of horse and rider. Unless your a fan, not the most interesting thing to watch, figure eights, lead changes that sort of thing. I was a little in awe to see what an accomplished rider my aunt has become. Not that I had my doubts, I just remember us as kids raising hell and having fun.

     I missed the pairs competition the first night but the obstacle course the second day was amazing. These  are working animals, not show or trick horses and it was incredible to see them put through their paces.

The long shot of the arena

The ball drop

The push

     There were a bunch of different things set up; a gate, water, a ramp that shifted, a jump, a transfer of object but the best to watch were the ball drop and the push.

     The ball drop was exactly that. A huge red ball that rolled down onto the horse as it stood in the little rectangle in front. The object was to have the horse not move or shy away.

     As you can see, not all the horses were great with that but many didn't flinch even as it hit them on the nose. Some even pushed it back. That's complete trust between horse and rider.

     The push was a heavy obstacle that rolled. The horse had to push it back about 15 feet, then walk over a mattress (terrain change) at the end. It was amazing to see the power of these animals and the control of the riders. Horses aren't ususally great with pushing things, they pull really well but...

     I couldn't believe the number of times the horses just walked up and literally shouldered the obstacle along and out of the way. It's easy to forget just how big and strong they are. My aunt's horse stands 5 and a half feet at the shoulder and he wasn't the largest one I saw that weekend.

     There were people and horses from all over North America and what a friendly bunch they were. Posing for pictures and chatting, they were great. So many beautiful animals and amazing riders. Here are some randon shots.

 The hanging "bodies" to go through
 The jump

 Side passing

 The water obstacle and my favourite little paint

Random shot of horse and rider



 That little paint again

 A massive well muscled horse

 Deb's boosters, Wendy(in the pink) and Sue

 Wendy, Me, Mom, Deb and Susan

 Deb's buggy, previously my grandfather's

   One parting shot, you know you're in horse territory when...

.....although I think everyone should have one of those manure signs for their office door LOL

     Even though I was a little in awe (and more than a little envious, I was never that good) of the horses and riders, it was a great way to spend a weekend. Deb, next time you're here if you need a groom, give me a call. I just might have to pick up the phone LOL

Monday, September 5, 2011

Defeating the Killer Tomato

     No, this isn't a review of the campy horror films so if that's what you're looking for, sorry to disappoint. This is a post about canning tomatoes, or in my case, trying to can tomatoes.

No this hilarious picture is not mine, credit belongs elsewhere
I'm just not sure where

     Why the title? Tomatoes and their salsas, sauces and relishes are probably the most common of home canned products. Many people take a real risk because they are thought of as high acid. They may taste acidic but they straddle the line of the 4.6 pH level needed to process things safely in a boiling water bath canner.

     What does that mean? Improperly canned, there is a risk of botulism. Now the odds of contracting botulism are low, but they are also potentially lethal. Not really something I am prepared to risk.

     I have things I can that have vinegar in sufficient amounts to lower the pH into the safe zone, ketchup and chili sauce. I've never, and still don't, have any concerns about their safety. I do however make tomato butter, the recipe source was reliable, and it is combined with a truly high acid source, apples. I've made it and enjoyed it for years, but after some reading...............

     Here is where things start to go down hill, at least for me. I need to understand the why behind what I'm doing for it to stick. Because of that, I tend to do an annoying amount of research and questioning before I start something, forewarned is forearmed. As I was researching canning with a pressure canner, I came across things which have made me question what I thought I knew.

     The first thing I did was read the instructions that came with my new pressure canner. Check, I understand how it works. I searched the internet on pressure canners and canning. Check again, sources agree, no problem. Now it is time to get the recipes. WTF happened here. No check, wildly different ingredients, preparations, procedures, cooking times etc. Back to the drawing board.

     I decided I needed to understand just what the conditions were that provided the growth of the botulism toxins, among other things, that can spoil all of your hard work. Along with that came ways to destroy, delay or reduce the above. If I understood this, I could make informed decisions about the recipes I had seen or perhaps adapt the ones that were a little on the shaky side of safe.

     That went well. There is a lot of solid science out there about food borne pathogens. There is also a lot about what affects their growth or kills them. It is pretty straight forward. Lots of information on how what you are canning can affect them, product density, combinations of ingredients, all the good stuff. Finally, an incredible amount published on the difference between doing it at home and how it is done commercially, irradiation, anti-microbials, higher pressure and heat that home canners can't duplicate. I've got this now.

     Back to the recipes. The first thing to do is make sure your source is a good one. Next, make sure it is current. Food safety recommendations change all the time so you have to keep up. Check and check again.
I use the National Centre for Home Food Preservation and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. They are the two of the best sources for current information and I have yet to find an instance where they don't agree.

     I decided to use recipes from only one trusted source. I read all of the recommended supplements then started comparing recipes to the information I had. The only place they don't agree is in the processing of tomatoes. What is up with that?

     Most of the recipes require tomatoes to be acidified for pressure or boiling water canning. Preparations are the same, obviously processing times are different but why acidify for pressure canning. I thought the high heat was sufficient. Where is my understanding going wrong? Pressure canning meat or low acid vegetables requires no acidification, why are tomatoes the exception?

     I did say most, there was a recipe for paste that added low acid peppers, cooked for ever then processed in a water bath canner for a long time. No acidification, no pressure canning instructions? This one caught my eye because it is almost exactly like my tomato butter recipe, same cooking and processing time and roughly the same proportions of ingredients. Why is this one safe?

     A sauce recipe that didn't require acidification didn't have water bath instuctions only pressure canning. This actually does make sense to me as it is how I understand the process to work. But if that is the case, why acidify the other preparations for pressure canning?

     I understand this is over simplifying things, you can't really compare. There are so many factors that affect the outcome, it would be impossible to cover every scenario. Is the acidification an added precaution? I can live with that explanation, it makes sense, but it bothers me that I don't know.

      Why wouldn't that be in the instructions? That's easy, people would skip that step. We are notoriously bad at following instructions, even ones designed for our safety.

     At the end of the day, I have to take it on faith that these agencies know their stuff. I do use the guidelines even if I can't make sense out of them 100% of the time. If they seem overly cautious is that a bad thing? Not for me. (but seriously, if you do actually know the answer let me know, it drives me crazy not knowing, LOL.)

    Take care and can safely, keep those killer tomatoes at bay.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Raves and Faves

     The last post had me bitchin', so it is only fair that this post be about things that make life just that little bit better. With out further ado, here are my three current faves. These are unsolicited reviews, just my great experiences with all three companies.

     The first one is Autoshare. They are a company I have been dealing with for several years. Basically, you have access to cars all over the city and you can rent by the hour. It is a great way have a car without the headache of owning a car in downtown Toronto. No worries about maintenance or parking and the advantage of renting for short periods of time. It worked out perfectly for a trip to my second fave, Whittamores Farm.

     Whittamores is located just a bit north of the Toronto zoo. It always amazes me I can be in farm country 45 minutes from downtown. I have been to several PYO farms and never really had a bad experience but I had a great time when I went this morning to this one. The staff were amazing, friendly and polite, even though I was there right at opening. No tired, surly or blurry there, well except for me LOL. Other than having a great selection of produce just waiting to be picked, you can tell they really thought this through.

     You can borrow a wheel barrow, a great relief for me as I was picking a bushel of paste tomatoes, there are bathrooms at the picking fields, okay port-a-potties but still and everything is labelled with huge easily seen signs even though they have guides to help steer you in the right direction.

     As I was leaving the strawberry field, eight litres of beautiful fresh berries in September in hand, the guide thanked me for my visit, in  the middle of a heat alert. Seriously, it was about 35 degrees with the humidex, brutal. The poor guy had been out there all morning walking all of us around the fields, showing us where to pick. The staff didn't miss a beat.

     I came home with a bushel of tomatoes, eight litres of strawberries and two huge watermelons. I would have stayed but I was literally dripping wet and couldn't take it any longer. I'll be back, maybe even next weekend. I'll see how much the first bushel of tomatoes make, then decide. All in all a great experience and at great prices, win, win for me.  I didn't even make it to their farmers market. Next time.  

      That brings me to my last but by no means least favourite, Kilmarnock Orchards. This is local to my parents place near Ottawa, not Toronto, but I always try and plan at least one visit home during their picking season.

     I would love to tell you more about the operation but I got totally sidetracked talking with woman running the place. She asked me what I was doing with the apples and made a great recommendation on type then we got talking about canning. We covered so much ground, on so many different topics I really should have taken notes. She even helped me identify what type of crab apples I have here that I love so much.

     Very knowledgeable and friendly, they don't just have apples, but crab apples, currants and plums as well. I left this year with most of a bushel of Yellow Transparent apples, which true to her word cooked up like a dream and a bunch of extra crab apples for jelly.

     It is always nice to go somewhere and be treated well, like they really do value your business. It's too bad it doesn't happen always, everywhere. Wouldn't that be nice?

     And that's me, not bitchin'.