Being an avid vegetable gardener, I was very interested in a program that the local school district is doing to help children learn about food production and preparation. It looks like it was a great success. Go to https://whidbeyschoolgardens.wordpress.com/ to see the results.
We did have a wonderful year for the vegetables. We have been giving lots to the local foodbank and friends. The tomatoes were especially productive and we have definitely eaten our fill. We also have several dozen bottles of various tomato products sitting in the root cellar shelves. The Brussels Sprouts are just ready now as we have just had our first frost (a very late one this year) and now they will be sweeter to eat. The leeks are wonderful too. We will have those fresh all winter.
The gold nugget squashes are sitting safe from mice and rats and we can eat those for the entire winter. They will probably be gone by spring and we must have had about fifty of them. Gave quite a few away too. We like these in particular as they are just the right size for two people. Though I like baked squash, hubbards and their kind are just too big. I have tried baking them and putting them in the freezer, but it is just too much, so we have settled on the gold nugget. They are sweet, very yellow and are also suitable for making pies. I cut them in half and fill with sausage or sausage and cornbread dressing, or just with butter and brown sugar. Yum.
Well the dark days of winter are here and some days I am not sure the sun has even come up. Today we will have sunrise at 7:48 a.m. and sunset at 4:15 p.m. Not a very long day, especially when you almost need flashlights during the day. All the lights are on in the house just to help us stay awake.
I am on my way out to chop firewood again. With this cold snowy weather, we have burned quite a bit of wood to keep warm. Now it is time to warm myself working outdoors splitting it. It is something I have written about previously in this blog and something I do enjoy.
Happy Holidays and keep warm!
Just came in from feeding the animals. It is cold again this morning. It was colder yesterday morning at 22 degrees, which for Western Washington, is cold. Since we have rather high humidity, the cold is more penetrating. For those who live in the mid-west, they probably would consider these temps a heat wave. Ha!
Everything is frozen outside, so the first thing I had to do when getting suited up to meet the weather challenges was to fill a large bucket with very hot water. The doves, the baby chicks and the molting old hens all need to have their waterers unfrozen. I also filled the birdbaths with warm water as the poor wild birds have no place to drink.
We have one baby dove who is just now fending for himself and I was worried that he might not make it through this cold. This morning he is huddled in a corner trying to keep warm as his mother has now abandoned him since he can feed himself. He was fine and jumped right in when the feed was provided.
The ten chicks, which are now two months old, are very hardy, but today I gave them their first cracked corn, which helps warm the chickens from the inside out. The also got fresh bread, which they chased all over their pen. The cold doesn’t seem to faze them.
The old hens, however, felt the cold. Why do they choose to molt just when the weather turns cold. Molting, as I have mentioned in earlier pieces, is the process of losing all their feathers and growing a new set, which means they are not laying any eggs. So we are between eggs with old ones molting and new ones too young yet. I hate buying store eggs.
The plantings in the yard look sad, especially the rhododendrons that lower their leaves as though dead or dying. This is the way they look in the heat of summer when they are in dire need of water. I always hate the look of them in this cold.
I know when things thaw that there will be lots of mud because the frost has pushed up around the stones in all the pathways making crunching noises as I walk out to do the chores.
The advantage to all the trouble above is THE SUN IS SHINING. It is a trade off. If we have sunshine, we have cold weather. If it is in the 40s then it will rain and be grey. Yesterday and this morning, we can bask in its warmth and enjoy the vitamins it gives to us, though begrudgingly in winter. Makes me feel perkier already. Amazing what a little sunshine can do for your mental health.
Guess I will go for a walk and enjoy it. Never know how long it will last.
When we go camping and even at home, I have a batch of homemade biscuit mix in a container in the cupboard. We have waffles, pancakes, muffins, or biscuits at least a couple of times a week and I found having a mix on hand makes the morning’s chores go more quickly. My general mix is for the buttermilk variety. If you want to make the recipe with sweet milk, then leave out the baking soda.
For the batch I make for the RV, I use powdered buttermilk in the mix so all I have to add is water, oil, and for all but the biscuits, eggs. If you want to make scones, add a little sugar. If you don’t have buttermilk, you can use a cup of milk with a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice added and let it set for a few minutes before adding.
6 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
Shake all these together in an air-tight container and you are ready to go.
If you are camping you can add 1 cup powdered buttermilk to the mix, in which case, you just add water for the liquid. Remember buttermilk needs the soda. Regular sweet milk only needs the baking powder, not the baking soda.
When you are ready to make biscuits, take 2 cups of the mix. Add 1/4 cup vegetable oil and 1/2 to 3/4 cup buttermilk (if you are using the camping mix, just add waterand oil). Variations: You can add grated cheese, herbs, red pepper flakes, bacon bits or whatever inspires. If you want to make scones, increase the oil to 1/3 c or substitute butter and add 3 tablespoons of sugar. I like to add white chocolate chips and dried cranberries. Any nuts are good, try hazelnuts and when you are ready to eat spread with Nutella. Yum!
For waffles or pancakes, use the same proportions as above, but add a little more liquid (about a cup)to achieve the correct consistency. We like to add nuts to the waffles or bacon bits. Pancakes can have sliced bananas added (if served with peanut butter, Elvis would be happy). Ricotta cheese added to pancakes with a goodly amount of lemon zest shavings makes a great pancake, but plain is good too.
For muffins, line the tins with greased muffin papers or just grease the pan. Mix 2 cups of mix with 1/3 C white or brown sugar, 1/4C vegetable oil, and 1 cup buttermilk mixed with one egg. I like to add dates, cranberries, craisins, nuts, bacon bits, pieces of dried fruit, blueberries, orange zest, lemon zest, vanilla or almond extract, just about anything. I sprinkle them with coarse raw sugar and bake at 400 degrees about 15 minutes. Any of the additions make for great muffins. Serve with lots of butter and jam.
Hopefully you will find this is a great mix to keep for camping or just making your mornings easier. You can make almost any recipe you find on a biscuit mix box, but you need to add oil as the commercial stuff has shortening added. If you add it to your homemade mix, then it needs to be refrigerated. I usually skip that and add it when I am making breakfast.
An out of focus photo of Ft. Warden Light near Pt. Townsend Washington.I probably should say that we went glamping as we stayed in our travel trailer and out of the cold, inclement weather. Since I didn’t have to work on Veteran’s Day, I had a space of five days free and we decided at the last minute to travel to the Olympic Peninsula in Western Washington State. For us this entails a ferry ride since we live on Whidbey Island.
Early on Thursday, my first day off, we headed to the Keystone Ferry in the middle of Whidbey. This ferry takes us to Pt. Townsend, one of my favorite towns in Washington. It has an 19th century charm that is going though restoration off and on, but still in keeping with the National Historic District status. Beautiful three and four story brick buildings with Victorian flair.
We stayed at Pt. Hudson our last night and visited the town, but the first day we headed for Sequim (pronounced SQUIM). John Wayne owned a substantial piece of waterfront on Sequim Bay many years ago where he moored his yacht, The Grey Goose, when he was in the area. The land was donated to the county and is now a beautiful marina, campground, boat launching area and more, well protected by the long spit that juts across the mouth of the bay. Calmer seas prevail here as the spit almost encloses the bay with a small passage out to the Straits of Juan de Fuca outside the passage.
Kingfishers, herons, seagulls and crows love the beach by the RV park. I love watching the kingfishers dive into the water, coming up with small fish. Their turquoise and green iridescence makes them spectacular. They look a little crazy with such big heads and small bodies.
Next we went to Joyce, Washington to stay at Salt Creek State Park. This park has a very rocky precipice overlooking the Straits. Waves crash on the rocks below the cliffs. The park is a fairly steep hill which has been terraced for the RVs. We backed into a space in the highest tear, thus having an unobstructed view of the straits and the shipping lanes there. I love to watch the ships go by and I can do it from my dinette table inside. We saw oil tankers, car carriers, and container ships interspersed with the minuscule fishing boats. The two lighthouses on Vancouver Island were visible flashing their lights after dark. They were hardly visible through the fog and moisture in the air during the day.
We took a day trip to Forks and LaPush and had lunch one day. Hiked around the campground another as it is an old fort from WWI. The neighboring bay, Crescent Beach, was packed with surfers, though there wasn’t much for surf the day we watched. Cougars had been sighted in the region and they suggested you keep you children and pets on a short leash.
We did see some seals out in a large bull kelp bed. Picked up some shells and beach glass while wondering beaches.
It was warmish, with the temperatures in the mid 50s. Sunday, however there was a gale that made it hard to push open the door of the travel trailer to get out. We were glad to be in Pt. Townsend and not at home that night. (Our home is situated in a treed area and often we need to leave home if storms are to dangerous.) We were only staying one night, but we unhitched as it was difficult to walk against the wind to downtown, many blocks away. Had a great dinner, once again, at The Fountain Cafe. They never fail to please us and we are very hard to please.
Mostly, this was a relaxing trip. We took our time, did a lot of reading in the evenings, slept late, and were generally lazy. We didn’t have to be anyplace and any particular time and we just wandered, a great way to spend a little time off.
(typical pedicabs, though the ones we used (twice) had now awning and the man who pedaled was much older)
LiuLiChong was a beautiful old street on the edge of a hutong, a village within the city, walled all around and possessing its own zip code. Most of the water related facilities in hutongs were used in common, wells, restrooms, showers and such. Some had as many as 10,000 residents. Anyway, it was a picturesque area with large, mature trees lining the streets and many stores with the old fashioned facades that sold to artists. There were also galleries and “antique” stores. I needed a couple of paint brushes and nearby there was a Korean BBQ area where we liked to eat.
It was a really hot day and rather than walking from the subway station (loop line) we opted to use a rickshaw or more accurately, a pedicab. This one had two seats mounted on the back of a bicycle. We only used these twice in China because I felt them to be somewhat demeaning to the drivers, though it was the way they earned their living.
We are moving along at quite a clip through traffic, the driver was older with mostly white hair and beanpole thin. He wore a wife beater and tan shorts with flip flops. The breeze felt good in the heat. Bob had on Bermuda shorts and I had on a skirt. One thing you may not realize is that most Chinese men lack any body hair, even on their faces. My husband is very fair having been a red head in his younger days.
We had seen the driver look back at us a couple of times and I was trying to keep my skirt decently in place as we traveled. Suddenly Bob feels something moving up his leg. He looked down and the driver was reaching back and running his hand up and down Bob’s calf feeling the bristly reddish hairs on his leg! We both laughed and the driver laughed and then he looked at mine. I shave mine and he must have thought that I was more “normal” like the Chinese with no leg hair.
(The writing group I belong to assigned the topic “trains” and I decided to share it with you. The photo is a nicer train than the one we slept in where the shelves were wood and it was very dark.)
When I lived in China, I had the opportunity to travel almost the full length of the country by various forms of transportation, plane, train, bus, rickshaw, but never on a boat. In January, February, and March of that year’s spring break, we would travel by train for the first time in China.
I had a foreign affairs officer who became good friend, and whose primary job was to answer questions and make our transition of living in China an easier one. So who did I turn to for lessons on how to travel? Zhou Wei. Help, how do we make a train reservation? What are the options? How can I tell them the destination? And a hundred others.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to keep to a schedule on the trip, so if we missed a conveyance or took one to the wrong place, we could just continue on anywhere we wanted. We did, however, have a bit of a plan.
I had tried to think of all the things I might need to ask someone while we travelled, soft sleeper, hard sleeper, soft seat, hard seat, where is a hotel and more. I wrote all the questions on flash cards and had one of my students write the phrase in Chinese characters on the other side, that way I could ask and hopefully understand and get the right answer.
Zhou Wei took us to the train ticket office near the university where we taught and showed us how to purchase a ticket, something that cannot happen more than three days ahead of your travel date. Spring break, millions and millions travel in China. Students have more time off, but business people and workers only have a short window of a week for vacation, thus transportation would be packed and overloaded during that time. We would try to stay in one place when this was the most difficult.
When it came time to leave for Xi’an, our fist stop, Zhou Wei went with us to the train station to show us how to find our train. All the schedules have the names of the destinations in Chinese characters. This meant I would have to memorize all the city names on our route in Chinese. Fortunately the times were written in western numbers.
When we were getting on the train, we had to surrender our ticket. I was a little worried that I didn’t have proof of the stop where I was supposed to exit and might be asked to leave earlier, but I was given a metal, dog tag type device to keep until my time to get off.
We had reserved a soft sleeper for the first leg of our journey. This was even more comfortable than the bed in our apartment with four bunks. Our roommates were two men who did not speak any English. They immediately stripped to their long johns so as to not wrinkle their suits. Luckily there was no smoking in the room so they needed to go between cars to do that. Toilets were at each end of the car, one western and one Chinese. There was a washroom adjacent to the conductor’s cubbyhole.
Everyone was wandering around the train partially dressed. They would sleep in their long johns.
A large thermos of boiling water was provided and the conductor kept it full for us. I had brought teabags and our dinner. We sat at a small pop-up table below the window and watched the world go by through lace curtains until dark. This train was the most luxurious of all in our travels.
People were polite and tried to engage us in conversation. On another leg of the journey, they watched us play canasta and tried to figure out the game as they are big card players who always want to gamble on them.
On one leg of the journey, I made a serious mistake while reserving our accommodations. I chose beds #3 and 4, wrongly making the assumption that they would be above and below each other in the same compartment. Wrong. They were in two different compartments. I went to mine and with charades, asked the man above my bunk would trade with my husband who had a lower bunk. He agreed in a minute as the lower are the more desirable.
On one leg of the journey we could only get hard sleeper. Hard sleeper is a little fancier than a cattle car. Wooden bunks are stacked four high. I didn’t see any chickens, but some livestock are allowed to be carried in this compartment. We slept on a board with the ¼” thick pad like we originally had for a mattress in Beijing. We didn’t sleep much due to discomfort and the general hubbub in the car. The people were very kind and gracious to us but someone was up the whole night talking or eating or calming crying infants. I could have throttled the two young me in the two top bunks playing video games with companion sounds (read noise), the whole night long. One man wanted to talk with us, but he didn’t speak English. He left for about two hours and came back with someone he found in soft seat who spoke English and could act as a translator. We spent quite a while answering his questions. It was fun and he was sooooo happy.
When you are nearing a town and it seems like about the time that you should arrive at your destination, start watching for the signs for the name of the station, only a few had their names in pinyin (western characters). Here is where I really had to read fast and had needed memorize the name in characters. I wouldn’t have much of a glimpse and I needed to see if it was our stop. We travelled for two and a half months and we didn’t get off wrong anywhere. We carried our baggage with us so there was no need to locate it when we arrived at our destination. I suspect that there was no baggage check as everyone carried their piles of bags, luggage, animals and more and dumped them in aisles, under seats on the foot of beds.
Now China has high speed trains that can travel from one end of the country to the other in just a couple of days. It used to take five. The trains from Beijing to Xi’an, Shanghai, TianJin are more luxurious than the ones that deal with other Provinces. A professor friend of mine said he slept on a board stretched between two seats for his bed on the train. He kept falling off. We traveled in comfort, even in the hard sleeper section.
Though some were crowded, it was very festive and the people were kind and helpful. The conductors/conductresses were attentive, maybe more so to us as we were foreigners. All in all, trains in China are the way to go and my preferred means of travel.