A Walk In the Woods

I love to walk. In the city I walked to work. To the market. To the library. For decades, most anywhere I needed to go – I could walk. If I didn’t get a good walk – my day wasn’t right.

I love to walk in the country too.  When I lived the in the city I would seek out wooded areas to walk – many times with just the company of my dog. Any time of the year.

“Aren’t you afraid?” people would ask.  And seriously, I wasn’t.  Oh, you would hear about the occasional bear in Gatineau Park. But it seemed to me that you would always encounter hikers or even those annoying park wardens checking if your dog was onleash. I dreamed about the time I could just open my door and be out in the woods and not be worried about a ticket from one of those guys.

And now here I am. Three hundred and eleven acres of our own woods.

Except. Now I get scared.

Maybe it is an age thing.  Maybe because I have seen pictures and tracks of all the wildlife that live here.

But mostly it is Abby’s fault.

My trusty pup, gets wide-eyed and very alert as we make our way through our trails. She is a border collie and cautious, just like me. (Some people even suggest we look alike – in a kind way of course.) And she has great hearing – just like me.  So she is always stopping and listening. Mostly it is the wind. There are many branches that pop and crack this time of year. I tell her that – in a loud and assertive voice – just like the book says. Don’t want to startle the residents. They were here first, after all.

The most disconcerting thing is her nose. This was a dog brought up on sidewalk smells. She could track a path to the Rideau Bakery like nobody’s business.

But now, she follows a scent.. and voila… a great big pile of moose poop. (Experienced woodspeople call it scat, I know).

And sometimes, when she smells, she gives me a look that says: “Let’s get out of here. Now. Seriously.”

on the rachel trail

abby on the trail

The romantic version of life in the country is that you can go on idyllic walks with your partner for life.  Two things about that:  he’s mostly building our house during daylight hours; and his version of walking includes talking a lot about what pond will go here, and fence will go there. He is also tracking trails and way points on our GPS for our forest management plan. To him, a walk is work. That kind of walk is nice. And I like it too. But all those years of solitary walking has spoiled me for that hour or so of just being.

I am pretty sure it will get easier. When we first moved up here I found it a bit scary to go outside at night alone.  It is one of the darkest places in Ontario. And most of the animals here wander around at night.   I have gotten over that.

Mostly because it is so amazingly, breathtakingly beautiful.

And because I love to walk

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Soup for a Snowy Night in the Woods

It snowed on the South Road today. Big. Fat. Fluffy flakes.  Like a Winter Wonderland.

It was the kind of day where you want to go outside.  And you know better than to drive anywhere – winter tires or not.  Foundation from the Old Barn

The local yoga class was cancelled. As was Rick’s water-colour class at the Coe Hill Bakery.  School buses weren’t running either.

Up here, this kind of day means long, slow cooking of whatever you happen to have in the larder.  And that’s where this soup is wonderful.  I make it often in autumn and winter and I have never fed it to anyone who didn’t love it. It is easy and good for you.

The Recipe for Curried Squash and Sweet Potato Soup

First find the biggest cookie sheet you own and line it with aluminum or parchment paper. (i think parchment is better for the environment) — turn on your oven to 350F.

Cut two onions  into chunks.

Peel a large sweet potato into big cubes.

Wash and cube a medium white potato.

Wash two carrots and slice thickly.

Quarter two small acorn squash – skins on but seeds out.

You put everything onto the cookie sheet. Drizzle with some grapeseed oil (vegetable is ok too).  Grind some fresh pepper on it and roast until everything is soft – about 40 mins.  Keep your eye on it.. you don’t want the onion to get black and bitter.

When done, slide everything EXCEPT the squash into a large saucepan. Scoop the squash out of its skin and into the pot. Sprinkle the mixture with about a tablespoon of curry powder.  I use Sharwood’s Mild.  Add a tsp. of cumin if you really like a flavourful curry taste.   Let it heat through watching and stirring carefully for about a minute or more.  Pour in five to six cups of chicken or vegetable stock.   Usually I use a container of organic stock by Pacific Foods and then make two extra cups of stock from MacCormack’s bouillon.  If you do this, you need not add any salt later.

Stir it all up. Bring it to an almost boil. And then let it simmer for about 30 minutes. And then remove from heat.  I am almost positive that Harry the Moose could smell this and came closer to the house – it sure doesn’t smell like cedar bog.

I recently got an immersion blender and I puree the whole thing. Right in the pot. But for years I used a regular blender –  only two cups at a time.. when it has cooled a bit. Otherwise, it makes a mess.

If you really like it hot.. add a half of a dried chili and then remove it before you blend it. This last time,   I also added a cardamom pod.

This soup is seriously like candy.  It turns a warm orangey, butterscotch and is very soothing. If it is too thick, add a bit of milk before you serve it.  Sometimes I put a teaspoon of yogourt on the top and work a fancy design through it.  And today, I was lucky enough to have some fresh parsley that is still doing well in our west window.

Once you have made this a couple of times, you will see that you can add other vegetables you have around.  It never tastes the same way twice.  But it is always good.

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The Moose Hunt

We share our property with at least three moose. Two yearlings. A boy and a girl. And their mom.

I know they are around because they lope down the field from time to time… and one night after a yoga class a moose ran ahead of the car for at least a couple hundred feet. Moose can run!  (And for those who do yoga, was this a na moose te moment?)

But mostly we see them in photographs.

You see, five of our friends hunt on our land during moose and deer season. Months before the season started, these guys started coming up looking for tracks and scat. Then they put out salt licks and some over-ripe fruit.  And finally, they installed a couple of motion detector cameras.  One day, I walked up there and found them downloading pictures onto their laptops. Clearly hunting isn’t what it used to be!

But that is not a criticism.  Because that’s how I first saw Harry.

It is only a night shot. And his substantial backside fills most of the frame.But the thing about Harry is that he has an antler that points up.. and.. an antler that points down. Its the moose equivalent of a kid with a cowlick and a space where his tooth has fallen out.

My first glimpse of Harry

One look and I was smitten.  I spent moose season cringing every time there was a gunshot.

The hunters didn’t know that I was rooting for Harry… for all  his family really.   They had their licences fair and square and they are nice guys.

So every day when they drove down the road, I would quietly listen when they told me of their bad luck that day. Inside, though, I was counting down the days left. And marveling at how smart that moose family – especially the mom – must be.

Long story short.. Harry outsmarted the hunters this year.  His whole family did.

And I harbour a (not so ) secret hope that Harry  and his antlers will become a legend here on the South Road.

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Wild Apples

There are apple trees amidst the pines and hardwoods all along the South Road. Oldtimers will tell you that many of them grew wild after birds or deer left behind seeds of old apple trees.  But on our farm there are some very old apple trees planted in rows.  They are overgrown, many branches entangled and hard to reach.  But for the past three years I have been harvesting the apples.  There appear to be Macs, one that looks like a Granny Smith, some softer apples, and a few crabapple.  I made jelly last year.  But this year I have been making apple crisp or freezing them.  I didn’t know you could freeze apples but this morning I found out how from a great website called Mennonite Girls Can Cook.  They seem to know their stuff – check them out http://mennonitegirlscancook.blogspot.com.

As for the Apple Crumble, I used my favourite recipe from Deborah Madison’s  Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I’ll post it on the Recipes page.  It is scrumptious – especially made with those apples which range from tart to super sweet.

Wild Apples from the very old South Road Farm orchard.

As for getting the trees back to the condition they deserve to be in – that’ll be a longer road.  Pruning apples trees is an art and a science that can only be done at certain times of the year.  We’ll take our time.  Lord knows they have been patient.

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A little bit of tuscany

OOkay. So maybe it is a bit of stretch  to characterize the South Road as the Tuscany of North Hastings.

But for the second year in a row we have harvested some amazing tomatoes and basil.  And they have made for some delicious meals and goodies for the freezer.

I spent the good part of the afternoon washing and clipping basil for Basil Balls. Basically a recipe where you snip basil leaves into the food processor; whir with a bit of olive oil; place a heaping tablespoon on a cookie sheet covered with wax paper and freeze until solid.   When they are solid, they are packed away in the freezer in a Tupperware tub to be used for soups, stews and sauces from November until April… when we really need to be reminded of summer.

Basil balls are a great invention – even if they do invite cheeky jokes about Fawlty Towers.

basil and tomatoes

tuscan harvest -north hastings style

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Patty’s Sweater

Patty was one of the first people I met up here.  She was an amazing cook. Talked a mile a minute. She still had her Irish accent and swore. A lot. But in a charming way.

From what I could gather, she grew up on a wealthy horse farm somewhere on the Irish coast.  In her seven decades, she’d had adventures all over the world. Quite a few of them with her first husband.  But when they came to Canada and settled down, the marriage went really sour. So much so that she ran away to this part of the world and changed her name.  And married Gale.

Their farm is just down the road.   Gale is a whiz at carpentry and other things mechanical and built Patty pretty well anything she could conjure up.  And he learned to love Patty’s horses. He adored her.

But last year Patty had a stroke.  Her systems were shutting down. They only gave her weeks to live.  But damn if she didn’t pull through.  She went through rehab and on many days you could still see the spark was there.  But she was never the same.  She passed away about a year after she had her first bad turn.

Gale was devastated. And angry.

Our friend up the road who is the most nurturing and efficient homemaker I have ever met… finally gave up trying to help Gale clean up the house and clear away some of Patty’s belongings.  He just would not budge. And while we all worried about him in that house, we gave up trying to change anything.

Until the other day.

We had invited Gale for roast beef dinner.  He showed up in a lovely shirt, bearing a bottle of Shiraz in one hand and a bag in the other.

“These were Patty’s,” he said simply.  In the bag, a pair of Wellies, with the top three inches cut off so they came up just past the ankle.  “She hated them when they were too high,” he said.  And then out came a roll that looked like a sheepskin lining.  He held it up with a laugh that caught in his throat. ” She loved this thing. She wore it to tend to the horses and feed the chickens, sometimes right over her pyjamas,” he said a bit naughtily.  Then he looked right at me. “Would you wear it?”

Well that was a couple of weeks ago.  I wear that sweater to collect firewood, shovel the drive and go for hikes.  It is not fine wool or high-tech polyester. But somehow it has amazing warmth – maybe because it is so big.

I didn’t know Patty all that well.  So I am surprised that Gale gave me that sweater. And surprised at how much it means to me. 

Probably because I wear it to do things  Patty loved to do. But there’s something else.

Hanging it on a hook the other day, I discovered a name tag. Mary H….

That was Patty’s real name.  And although she was Patty to everyone here for miles around.. she never forgot the past that brought her to the place that she loved.


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