Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Winter Sewing

 
 
I spent some time today planting seeds for next spring. I planted them in milk jugs and orange juice jugs and put them on the balcony for the winter. They are perennials and require a winter to germinate. This is called "winter sewing". It's a great way to plant perennial seeds that need the cold.

I cut the jugs in half, leaving them connected at the handle. I opened the jugs, poked holes in the bottom and put soil into then about 4" deep, then watered it. I like to water the soil before I plant the seeds. Then I just sprinkle the seeds on the wet soil and top, if needed, with a light sprinkle of soil.

All of these are taped closed and put outside on
the balcony for the winter. I left the little lids off the containers so they could get some rain and snow to keep the soil damp until they sprout in the spring. I put chairs around them to protect them from the wind and possible winter storms.

I have grown things using the winter sewing method before and it works very well.

I numbered each one on the outside and on the inside so the weather would not erase the number. I listed the plants in each jug on a piece of paper with the numbers so I will know what they contain in the spring.

I planted euphorbia donkey tail spurge, red monarda bee balm, husker red penstamon, purple lupins, a lot of berginia, wintergreen, hardy hibiscus, honeysuckle vine, pink alpine grass, fancy feather oriental poppies, peony poppies, indian paintbrush and pink grass together and johnny-jump-up violas for pots.

The indian paintbrush needs another plant from which to get its nutrients. It's roots wind around the roots of the other plant and take their nurishment from that plant rather than the soil. Grasses are good for this so I have planted it with the alpine pink grass. I got the indian paintbrush seeds from the alpine area where I got the pink grass seeds, often growing together. Here's hoping it works!

Winter sewing also gives me a way to play in the dirt in the middle of winter!

Soap Making


 
I'm making soap! This particular batch is going to be used in Christmas baskets. I do hope to make more to sell in the store in the spring. I just don't know if I'll get there this year.

I make soap that is pure soap. It has no artificial colour, artificial scent, chemical hardener or chemical sudsing agent...just pure soap. I used to add scent and colour but now I just make pure soap.

It still contains all the glycerin that is a byproduct of soap making. Most bath bars that you buy are detergent, not soap and even commercial soap has the glycerin removed. It's much more valuable than the soap. It's the stuff that moisturizes and softens your skin.

The soap that I make is good for our waterways and has no phosphates. It's also good for your pets and for you! There's nothing in it for anyone to be allergic to.

The hardest part is getting the fat to make it from. Sometimes I use pure unseasoned fatty beef trimmings if I can get them. Those I have to render into pure hard fat myself. Occasionally I buy vegetable shortening at the store and use that to make vegan soap. That's what this is. This also has olive oil and goat's milk in it. Sometimes I make an oil infusion of healing herbs and use that to make soap but I didn't have the herbs for this batch.

I like to make cold process soap because it's so quick and easy to toss together. It's also smoother but has to cure a long time before it can be used. I cooked this because I want it ready before Christmas.

I used to make huge batches of it and sell it, but that was a few years ago. It felt good to make soap again! I am going to enjoy using again too!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Pizza Day!






I made four different kinds of pizza today. I figured, since I was cooking and chopping the toppings anyway, I might as well use them all up. Its the prep time that takes so long anyway. The pizzas themselves throw together and bake very quickly.

All my pizzas have a lot of sauce and mozzarella cheese to start with. Some also have parmesan and sometimes cheddar, making them "three cheese" pizzsa. I did not use cheddar on any of these today, but a couple of them do have parmesan.

This one is my "Special" Hawaiian. It's my personal favourite! It has ham, pineapple, a small amount of bacon and coconut. I LOVE the addition of coconut on a Hawaiian pizza! I love coconut in anything and this is delicious! This idea came from a wood fired pizza place in Ontario, where we used to live. This is their St. Lucia pizza pie. I have made my Hawaiian pizzas with this blend of toppings since falling in love with the one they serve. (This is their website menu, if you want to get some fabulous pizza ideas: Wood Fired Pizza Pie Joint)



This is Hubby's favourite. It is simply sausage, mushroom and onion. If there are fewer variety of toppings, I put more on so it still weighs the same as the other pizzas.




This one is grilled chicken, small amt of bacon, mushroom, onion and parmesan. The chicken is cooked with onion and garlic before adding to the pizza. 





This one has the most toppings and is quite a bit heavier than the other three. It's a "Deluxe" and has peppers, onions, mushrooms, sausage, bacon, tomato and parmesan. Due to the extra toppings, I had to cook it a bit longer to get all the toppings done. I think it still may need a bit more cooking.

To use tomatoes on pizza, all of the water needs to be removed. I slice them as thin as I can get them and pat them dry between paper towels. This usually removes the water, gel and most of the seeds. All the veggies are sliced as thin as I can get them. I also dry the pineapple between paper towels. You want the pizza ingredients to be as dry as possible. The ham is sliced thin too, so it cooks and curls up in the oven.

Don't overcook the bacon - leave it slightly soft and chop the sausage up into very small pieces or thin slices. Sausage can be overpowering in a pizza if there are a lot of big pieces.

I like the thin, crispy crust. The thick edge usually gets tossed out anyway, so why waste it? I also like the bottom to be crispy so I keep it thin. I make a regular large pizza crust recipe and divide it in half exactly, to make two 12" pizzas without edges. I roll it out very thin and spread the sauce and toppings all the way to the edge. 

These pizzas are baked on a stone that is preheated in the oven. It's important that the stone be already hot when the pizza goes on it to get the bottom done and crispy, without burning it. I cut pieces of parchment paper for each pizza, the same size as the stone and roll the dough out to match it. I put the dough on the parchment paper and add all the ingredients. When the pizza is ready to go, I take the hot stone out of the oven and slide the pizza, parchment paper and all, onto it. (The parchment paper cooks with the pizza and does not take away from the stone effect at all.)

The hot stone with the pizza on it is then put back into the oven to bake about 12-14 mins on the lowest rack. If it is an especially heavy pizza, I might then stick it under the broiler for just a couple of minutes to further cook and brown the toppings. 

I was feeling industrious today! Must be the extra sunshine! The days up here are rapidly getting longer. It is light outside now before 6 am. That will change somewhat after we "spring forward" and the time changes, but then the days will just keep getting longer until the end of June, when it starts going back the other way. In June when the days are the longest, it is light at 11 pm up here. The further north you are, the longer the days are in the summer. Likewise, the shorter they get in the wintertime. At the north pole, winter is 6 months of night and summer is 6 months of day. We are not that far north, but we are far north enough to have extremely long days during the summer months. Anyway...to make a short story long...we are starting to get a lot of sunlight now and it is very welcome! 

The pizzas I made today all came out perfectly! That's not always the case. Sometimes I am multitasking and get distracted while it is baking... 

 

 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Cat Training 101

Princess Abby
I originally put some of this information into the last post about my cats and their homemade halters. I got so many questions about cat training that I thought it would be better to make this a single post. So much of the info that used to be in the last cat post has been moved to this one, and more added. 

Shadow
We have two cats, Shadow and Abby, both dearly beloved, usually well behaved, although not perfect, pets.  

Training a cat to be a well behaved family member takes time and patience. "Scruffing" is a valuable tool (Information on "Scruffing"). The very first time you scruff your cat, expect a freak out episode that you will need to hold for awhile, unless he/she is a very young kitten. We have also used a spray bottle of clean water, occasionally, for certain types of training.



I have never, not even once, had to "scruff" Shadow. I'm not sure I could now, at this size. Because Abby is a tabby and has that personality, she will always be bossy. It's the tabby nature, but tabbys can still be taught respect. (She can be amazingly tenacious!)

Biting: Cats will often gently bite to play or to let you know they don't want to do something. Even though this type of biting rarely breaks the skin and doesn't really hurt, it is "bad" behaviour and should not be allowed. (Ditto for puppies.) You can usually train your cat to stop this if you immediately turn your back on him/her and walk away at the first touch of claws or teeth, ignoring them. Cats live for your affection and approval. Scratching and biting in an angry temper should never be allowed and often requires scruffing or spraying with water. Scruffing is more effective.

It works the same for any biting. If your cat bites you when you pet her or play with her, turn your back on her or push her off of your lap and walk away. Ignore her for awhile. She will learn to keep her teeth to herself if she wants your attention and approval. Be tough!

Claws: I would never declaw a cat. Even city indoor cats occasionally have to defend themselves. You never know when your cat may get out, even just in the hallway of a building, and need to defend themselves against a dog or another cat.  

Cats use their claws for a lot more than defense. They hold onto and manipulate objects with their claw tips and use them for tools. You would find it difficult to manage without your finger tips - not to mention the pain you would go through if you had your nails removed.

Cat scratching can be controlled and cats can be trained not to scratch where they are not allowed, but it takes a little time and patience. It also takes an alternative area for them to use. If you are not giving your cat a place for them to scratch that does the job, you are asking for trouble. Cats need to scratch to remove the skin that grows over their claws and to keep their claws trimmed and healthy. A good scratching place needs to be tall or long enough for your cat to get a good back stretch while scratching. They will scratch and it cannot be trained out of them, but you can train them to scratch in an acceptable location, if you have one that fits the bill.

If you live in an apartment/condo in the big city, have expensive furniture and wallpaper that you cannot abide to have scratched even a little, have no time to train your cat patiently, don't want a cat post or rough log in your living room, perhaps a small dog would be better for you. 

More on claw maintenance and scratch training.


Neutering: You cannot keep an unneutered male cat indoors. It just cannot be done. You will never train him not to spray the inside of your house with foul smelling urine. It's instinctive. 

Likewise you cannot train a female cat in heat to be quiet. They prance and yowl loudly, day and night, off and on until it passes. You might also end up with unwanted kittens. Female cats in heat draw all the neighborhood unneutered males, even the wild ones with fleas, ticks and disease.

Keep an unneutered cat at your peril.

Feeding and Aggression: Cats are territorial. Give each cat his/her own dish and feeding spot, not too near each other. They will very quickly learn where their spot is and which dish is theirs, especially if the dishes are vastly different. Always feed each cat from their own dish and in the their same spot every time. They will automatically go to their spot and wait at feeding time, usually meowing loudly for you to hurry and even doing little dances on the spot while they wait. They will also be nosy and have to see what the other cat gets, just to make sure it is fair. They can be so funny sometimes!

If you have a problem at feeding time, separate them visually. A large piece of cardboard between them, so they cannot see each other, will help.  

Fighting: Cats usually fight over attention or food. Do not physically try to separate fighting cats. You might get hurt yourself. Throwing a blanket over them will usually stop a fight long enough for you to remove the less aggressive of the cats. Sticking a large piece of cardboard between them, from a distance, also works. Scruff the aggressive cat until he/she relaxes.  

Cat aggression can sometimes be severe enough to put the aggressive cat into a separated area for awhile, until the cat learns to get along. They should still see each other and be able to communicate, just not touch. With enough time, hopefully they will learn to adjust. This separation is especially important when introducing a new cat or dog into the household.

Mousing: (Warning! Some of this is not for the faint of heart or city "Barbie Dolls".) Good mousers are born, but they are also trained. I have to say this again...cats live for your approval and affection. Even a well fed cat  will still kill prey to feed their family. In most cases, that's you. 

If your cat brings you a dead mouse, or any mouse, it is important that you accept the gift in the spirit it is given. Praise your cat, pet him and tell him what a good boy he is. You will see him prance around, coo and generally let you know how proud he is of himself. Take the mouse out of sight and quietly, secretly, dispose of it immediately. Let your cat think that you really enjoyed the treat he brought you!

Many times he will run outside to find another one for you immediately, he is so overwhelmed with pride and wants to do it again and again! This will become a favourite game if you treat it right!

Without this training, a cat that is well fed will often still kill a mouse that invades their territory out of instinct and boredom...maybe, but you will insure a good mouser if you let them know how much you appreciate the efforts and enjoy the food! If you scold him or just leave the dead mouse on the floor for a long period, you will eventually be less happy with your cat's mousing efforts. 

Shadow went through a span of a couple of months when he thought I wanted to kill them myself. lol! We had some grand times chasing little mice around the house after he brought them to me and dropped them at my feet in the hall, almost daily. I don't know where he got that idea! lol! Cat's are very smart, intuitive and watch you for the smallest cues in how to behave in order to get your approval. It only lasted a couple of months, thank goodness, before they were dead upon arrival again. I must have overdone the praise with the first live one I got...

Many of them he eats himself and just leaves me the little green stomachs on the porch. Some mornings I would find a few little green mouse stomachs, licked clean, in a small pile on the porch. I am assuming that he brought the mouse back to the house, but it was nighttime and no one came to get his offering, so he ate it himself.

Cats are natural predators and will kill all small creatures, birds and chipmunks included. It is sad, but this is part of making a good mouser. They get praise no matter what they bring you, even if it brings tears to your eyes. Your cat doesn't understand the difference.

Cats who catch or eat mice will need regular worming. Cats get the worms from the mice. You will find the little worm casings all over their bottoms when they have worms. I have tried the common powder from Heartz for round worms. It does work to kill the worms, IF you can get your cats to eat it. Regardless of what the packaging says, I have never had a cat that would touch it, even in canned food or tuna. You also have to watch the weight and dosage with that particular stuff. You can make your cats sick if you overdose them. Shadow is particularly sensitive to it. 

We use a liquid wormer now from Excel that works much better and cannot be overdosed. We can buy it at the pharmacy here in BC. The dose has to be given twice, 10 days apart, but it works well and only takes a few minutes to administer. 

I have to wrap the cat with a towel, careful to enclose all four feet tightly, hold the head in my elbow and force feed the liquid down the throat with a syringe. It only takes a minute and ensures that the cat gets the full dose. They will hate this, of course, but I hope they are getting used to it. I haven't actually seen any evidence of that...


Affection and biting:  Cats will learn to love attention and also like being picked up and held if they understand that they are still in control while you are holding them. If you pick up your cat, put him/her down at the first little wiggle and turn your back on him. Don't hold your cat in your arms or on your lap against her will. Repeat this a couple of times each day. It takes time and patience. 

Holding your cat when she is cold to warm her helps too. Put her out in the snow for a few minutes. When she decides that she doesn't like it and gets cold, pick her up and cuddle her. As soon as she wiggles, put her right back down in the snow. Continue this a few times. She'll get the idea. Abby will now ask to be held anytime she gets cold

Shadow loves to be picked up now and will respond by nuzzling for a few minutes, then wants down, but he will still ask to be picked up. He doesn't like to be held for a long time or anyone walking around with him. He suffers easily from motion sickness, so I don't blame him for that. I started training him to like being picked up when he was small. I didn't realize how big and heavy he was going to get! lol!

Please don't pick your cat up with a full belly, right after eating a big meal. They won't appreciate having their belly squished when it is full. Shadow will respond to that by barfing. (Just so you know...)

Getting a cat? If you decide, after reading this, that you want or need a cat (trust me, if you live in the country, you need a cat!) please look into adopting one that needs a home. If you advertise or look on Kijiji, you will see many, many cats that are under a year old and already neutered that are free and need homes. These are perfect! They are still young enough to be trained and scruffed and taught to respect all family members, with time and patience. 

I think the black and white tuxedo "Jeffries" cats have more gentle personalities and make the best pets, imho. The Ragdoll cat breed are called that because they will take any handling without reacting, as a ragdoll will. This makes them the objects of cruelty more often than not and I would never have one with small children who could, inadvertently, or on purpose, tease and hurt them. Tabbies and tortoiseshell cats are bossy, tenacious and temperamental, but still make excellent pets with training. Calico cats, although beautiful, are noted for being psychotic...

This is just a generalization that I have heard from dozens of pet owners and people who feel the same way about the various cat personalities, as well as my own experience. There are always differences and exceptions based on the backgrounds of the individual cats, of course.

Most of this comes from my own experience and research I have done with my own cats over the years, some from discussions with other cat owners and vets. I hope it is helpful. 

If you have a big problem with a pet, it is usually best to consult a professional veterinarian.