Thursday, October 18, 2018

A day in the Park

First of all, an update on the house.

As I write this, the house roof is about 2/3 done. There's a small area still to be shingled, and then finishing around, vents to be reinstalled. The garage isn't started yet but the supplies are all there and ready to go. Oh, plus the back leanto roof over the woodpile. There was a bit of a delay due to a problem with the roofer's son's health but we should be back on track for completion this weekend. Everything's going smoothly... the bin is going to cost me more than anticipated though because of the dumping fees for the old shingles.

He used "Ice & Water" shielding for the critical areas and a waterproof membrane elsewhere. I never did have any leaking but because of the way the structure is built, ice damming in winter is a perennial problem.

What's left to do? Not much. Actually I have to decide what to do with the stuff I dragged out to sell in a garage sale. Some I'll put away, some I'll scrap or give to the Thrift store. The gazebo roof needs to come down and be put away before the snow flies.

It looks like I'm staying for another winter. Unless I can sell it by word of mouth: I won't re-list it until the Spring, then we'll see. My fireplace wood is in, stacked and split (they supplied a rather coarse split and I had to work hard to re-split it), I've arranged with someone to plow the driveway because I sold the ATV last spring, but I need to find a smallish snowblower just to do the paths around and the deck. Surprisingly, not much is available out there right now.
Ask me if you want to see some details and pictures of the house.

The car also cost me a few dollars. I ran over a branch in Algonquin Park last week and punched a hole in the radiator. $700 later... Now I discovered that my exhaust pipes are badly corroded and that's going to be some more. I guess I'll make a trip down to Toronto next week to address that. But otherwise the snow tires are installed and we're ready for winter!

My latest kitchen purchase

(This is what I mean by "sporadic musings"!)

You know how sometimes you buy something and wonder how you ever managed without it?

Those who know me know I like to eat... and somehow I need to cook. I like cooking but I'm lazy and don't have the energy to fiddle with complex recipes and methods. I had read about these things for a while and decided to buy one. 

Since I live alone, I don't need a big one, so I chose the Instant Pot Duo 30 which is a 3-Qt version (it's also available in 6- and 8-Qt sizes) 

Best thing ever!

I've had it about 6 weeks and at the beginning I used it daily just to learn how and try various recipes.  I'm still using it virtually every day. And I have yet to have a bad experience, everything I've cooked in it has come out fantastic! 

It cooks rice better than any rice cooker (mine is for sale..., so is one of my crock pots!). Sweet Potatoes are better than anything I've made other ways, and so are mashed potatoes. And steamed veggies. But the best thing is how it cooks meats. I'm used to using a crock pot and cooking a roast or stew for 8 hours. Give this thing 30-40 minutes, the same cuts of meat and it's even better! Also clean-up is one stainless steel pot, 2 minutes! Including roasts, chicken, fall-off-the-bone ribs, even meat loaf!

Best place to buy these is on Amazon.  It cost me $100 including free shipping and was here in two days. I notice it's now on sale for $10 less!  Here's the link to the Amazon page for the 3-Qt and here's the link for the 6-Qt if there's more than one of you. 

I know this is a little weird to be reading here, but last night I made a pot roast, except I'm on a low-carb diet right now and didn't add in potatoes and carrots. Instead I made green beans and a salad. This is my own recipe, nothing exact. Here's what I did:

  • I used a chunk of chuck roast or bottom round (I don't remember which). You know, the cheap roasts for 'slow cooking'. Or blade roast or sirloin roast... because it was just one meal, I had bought one about 1 kg and cut it in half, freezing the rest.
  • On "sauté", brown all sides in the pot in a little olive oil. Important step for flavour.
  • Take it out, pour in about a cup of beef broth and 'deglaze' the pot by scraping all the brown bits into the broth. 
  • Add some garlic (I like the paste, not messy!) and a bunch of chunks of onion. My FAVOURITE seasoning: Knorr dry onion soup mix (half a packet for such a small roast). Some salt, Keg steak spice, some Worcestershire sauce and some ketchup for some tomato-ey flavour. Mix it up, put the little trivet thing in so the meat isn't immersed in the liquid too much.
  • Put the meat back in, close the lid with the vent sealed and set it to pressure cook for 40 minutes. When it's done, let it release naturally, it'll take about 10 minutes.
  • Take out the roast, mix up a heaping teaspoon of corn starch with a little water. Mix it in, slice up the roast and put it back in the liquid with the pot back on "sauté" for about 5 minutes.

That was the best tasting roast I've had in forever. Under an hour, not all day. And the gravy was so good I poured it on my green beans too! Imagine it on potatoes (after the diet is done!). And it took longer to write this than to prepare it. 

PS: if you are going to add potatoes and carrots, set it for 30 minutes instead of 40, do an 'instant release', open the pot after the pressure is vented, add the veggies, reset it for 10 minutes more and restart it. Natural release. Otherwise the veggies are overdone.

How did I live without one of these?

My day in Algonquin Park

The weather forecast for yesterday wasn't too bad, so I got up early and headed up to Algonquin Park. I was pleasantly surprised by a beautiful sunrise and i got out at the Frost Centre to take a few shots:

I looked to my left and, "Hey! There's a bird on the dock!" From a distance, I thought it was a heron but on a closer look, an owl! I ran back to the car, got the long lens, and it hadn't moved! I got a shot!

Then I looked closer. And walked down there. It hadn't moved because it was made out of plastic! Got me.

My plan for the park was to drive highway 60 hoping for moose, check out Mew Lake for critters, then do Spruce Bog because I was told where to find Spruce Grouse there. Next I'd go up Opeongo Road. I had two purposes, moose and critters, of course: and I figured that since the east part of the park was more Aspens and Tamaracks, they'd be colourful by now. Technically, the red maples would be gone at this point. But Arowhon was worth checking on the way home anyway, I wanted to see what was left of the maple canopy. Everything went more or less to plan.

Along 60 there were traces of snow. Although I took a few shots, I won't post one because it's only topical for a couple of days, next week it'll be old news. Wait... what's that black thing at the back of that field? Could it be...

I shot this with the 400mm and the 1.7x teleconverter for a total of 680mm. Up till now, that combination did not produce sharp results but I had the camera and lenses serviced at Sun Camera and looks like they fixed it. Now it is not as sharp as the 200-400mm lens on its own, but it's pretty good. This is just a slight crop for composition.

Next I turned up a side road on a whim. It wasn't marked if I recall so I can't say exactly which one it was. There was a little bridge about 2 km in, then it ended in a parking area at the head of some hiking trail. 

The reds are gone and the gold sugar maple leaves are falling but this is why I am addicted to shooting the colours every fall! 

There was nothing going on at Mew Lake so I drove to the spruce bog and spent an hour in the area where I was told the Spruce Grouse hang out. In fact I shot one there last week. There were lots of red squirrels, chipmunks, chickadees and red breasted nuthatches vying for peanuts. 


Next stop was Opeongo Road. I travelled up and down it a couple of times hoping for spruce grouse, then I went for lunch at the Mad Musher. On the way back, I stopped at a few scenic spots, including the parking area for Brewer Lake. 

I chose to shoot with the ND filter in place here. The 60 second exposure smoothed out the waters and the clouds, then I added a lot of clarity to the trees to bring them to what I had previsualized. Because I had the camera out with the 70-200 lens, on the tripod, several cars of tourists screeched into the parking lot thinking I had found a moose!

I found an unmarked road leading to a canoe portage. I drove to the end on what I call a Suba-road and got some spectacular fall colour pictures.

From time to time I shoot a picture with my Subaru in it. Maybe one day, Subaru or a dealer will see them and decide they would make great pictures or posters for their showrooms (that's a hint: if you drive a Subaru or know a dealer, pass it on!). My habit is to drive as far as I can until I run out of road. When the surface gets rough, I've named these roads "Suba-Roads".

This shot was enhanced with Topaz Studio but I partially masked the car to retain its original detail.

In the same spot. I love the multiple textures of the fungi, the bark and the leaves. 

I love these pine plantations. The symmetry, the patterns. In this case, the white fungi and flora mixed with the fallen pine needles add a great texture. Can't you just smell the fresh pine? 

Then I drove back up Opeongo Road and stopped at the Turtle Rock bridge where I found Canada Jays, chickadees and white-crowned sparrows. I also ran into Jackie and Robert from Toronto Digital who told me to go to the top end of the Mizzy Lake trail for spruce grouse. 

What kind of plant is this, growing wild along Opeongo Road? I know it's not but it looks suspiciously like Canada's new national plant! 

White Crowned Sparrow on Opeongo Road. 

They told me where to park and described the trail, saying I only had to go a couple of hundred yards. They lied. 2½ km later... well I did get my steps in! I didn't see much, no Spruce Grouse, but it was a beautiful trail to walk. It was a little late in the day so I didn't linger long. However...

A cheeky red squirrel down the trail.  

I never would have ID'd this bird without help. Jackie and Robert were there and Robert, who is a retired ornithologist, instantly identified it from the back of my camera. It's a lifer for me!

It was a great day in Algonquin Park. In fact, they all are, including the day I drove over a branch and punctured my radiator as I mentioned above. Next time I'm back, there will probably be a white background! See you then.

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