Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Nothing Says Spring Like Maple Syrup and Don Messer

Maple syrup. Photo: LadyDragonflyCC*Bring on Spring
Today it's officially spring! The sun is warm and the snow is beginning to melt. In some places, the ground is already muddy but there is sweet anticipation in the air. The sap is running and it's time to make maple syrup!

How do you know when it's time? Daytime temperatures are over 40°F or 5°C and the nights are below freezing.

One year, we decided to tap the old sugar maple in our backyard. It was a big tree so we used more than one tap, emptying the pails every day until we filled a large bucket. At that point, I did something stupid. Oh, I filtered it through a clean cheesecloth into a huge kettle and that was fine. The problem began when I decided I could use my kitchen stove to boil it down. After all, it was warm and the windows were open so what could go wrong? Nothing, as long as turning the entire house into a sauna is what you want. Lesson learned, although it may be worth trying if you need to remove wallpaper at any point. The photos below give you an idea of just how much steam we are talking about here.

Definitely take it outside. If you have a fire pit, just add an old oven rack adjusted for height with bricks or rocks and carry on. If there is a city ordinance forbidding open fires in your yard, then by all means haul out the barbecue but have plenty of fuel on hand. This is going to take awhile. The ratio of sap to finished syrup works out to something like 40:1 but it's an exciting project for the whole family. Kids can check the sap in the buckets and help empty them. Let them taste it from the tree and see if they can detect any sweetness. Then there are preserving jars to prepare and, of course, that first taste of perfect maple syrup drizzled over fresh snow.

If you've never tried this, you should consider doing it at least once. With some luck, you will hit a jackrabbit year like we did and have a pantry stocked full of maple syrup in no time flat. After a couple of week's work, we had enough syrup for our family for two years and that included giving a lot away to friends and neighbours. It was also a nice way to say thank you for the Christmas goose that made a surprise appearance at our door later that year. All in all, not bad for one old tree.

Sugar shack near Elmira, Ontario. Photo by Ian Munroe
Steam fills the woods like fog. Photo by Ian Munroe
Keeping the fire burning for syrup. Photo by Ian Munroe
If this is not your year to make your own syrup, have a look for a sugar shack in your area that hosts pancake breakfasts, horse-drawn sleigh rides or tractor rides and take the kids or grandkids for a treat they will never forget.

What has all this got to do with Don Messer? Maybe you remember Don Messer's Jubilee on CBC. Alright. Maybe you didn't watch it but your parents or grandparents probably did and Maple Sugar on Don Messer's fiddle is pretty sweet. This made my day and I hope it makes you smile, too. Enjoy the spring!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Coronation has been postponed or "Put Down the Banana"

Okay, so maybe you think that last post was a little one-sided. Justin Trudeau did not come out looking as well-coiffed and charismatic in my writing as he does in person. You have a point, so let me explain why I wrote it that way. It's the truth.

He is probably a decent guy with dreams of his own and I would never take that away from him. Honestly, I was one of the first to support his efforts when he called for change. After all, that is what is driving most of Canada right now. We are fed up and angry with the way things are going and perhaps this blog is my bitter disappointment showing. I waited for the fervor and excitement to die down a bit so real issues could be discussed and I could make an informed decision. It was not to be.

His Facebook Page says things like the young people of Idle No More have energy but need leaders to channel that energy. Really? I think First Nations have leaders who have managed to do that very nicely already. Perhaps he meant 'control' that energy and not embarrass us in front of the U.N. on silly things like food, healthcare, and education standards. Or perhaps he meant he loves the energy of young people but their ideas are stupid and pointless without a powerful leader to tell them what they should be doing.

Either way, the message is the same.

Way back while I was still feeling hopeful, I added a suggestion on the page that maybe some policies would be nice, some direct answers on issues that concern a lot of Canadians. I was told by one of the women in charge of the page that we just have to trust Justin to make those decisions for us. When I suggested that maybe voting is about choosing a representative who listens and acts on the wishes of the people, she replied that she certainly had no idea what the best decisions might be and that's why we have elected officials.

"They are supposed to make decisions for us because they know more."

Did she mean deciding all those icky, thought-demanding things like trade agreements maybe? I wonder if she realizes this was the case presented back in the early 20th century against women attaining the right to vote. Sorry, Justin. No matter how engagingly you work a crowd, I am not going to pick up the banana. There's just too much at stake. You demanded an extension for the Leadership race because your supporters didn't bother to register. Maybe you need to show them where the little clicky thing is... just sayin'.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Joyce Murray and Justin Trudeau

A brief comparison of two contenders for the Liberal leadership.
Joyce Murray
Justin Trudeau
Let's agree they both have good hair and winning smiles. One was born into a famous family, one was not. One is the child of a former Prime Minister and one is the child of an award-winning architect who specialized in affordable community and senior housing. Does this have any bearing on their ability to lead a nation? No, it does not, so let's have a look at their personal accomplishments.

Joyce Murray
Sustainability has been important to Murray for years. She served as a Cabinet Minister and as B.C.'s first-ever Minister of Water, Land and Air Protection. Murray has been instrumental in creating recycling and waste management systems that are now in effect across Canada. She has called for a ban of all shipments of oil and bitumen along B.C.'s pristine and dangerous northern coast and recommended that more oil be refined in Canada and that oil sands subsidies be ended. This is just a brief look at Murray's involvement. The video is a recording of tree-planting back in her early days. She was only 22-years-old at the time and went on to personally plant over half a million trees and develop a business that employed thousands of Canadians. The business now operates in six countries. Joyce Murray on Facebook.

Justin Trudeau
Youth and sports are important to Trudeau. He was a high-school teacher before deciding to enter politics and has represented the Papineau area since 2008. He also played the part of Talbot Mercer Papineau in the 2007 CBC mini-series The Great War. He served as the Liberal critic for post-secondary education, youth and amateur sport but, according to the Huffington Post, has never tabled a private member's bill during his time in office. His campaign slogan is "Be Part of the Change".Unfortunately, Mr. Trudeau has not taken any policy positions during this leadership race so it is difficult to speculate on what his slogan means or what a future Liberal Party would look like if he were elected leader. I would have included a video but there are none available featuring Mr. Trudeau other than those associated with politics so that will have to be left to our imaginations... or perhaps you can find the mini-series on YouTube. Justin Trudeau on Facebook.