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Happy Perihelion 2014!

Today was perihelion – or, in other words, the day of the year that our earth is nearest to the sun. The best part of today, in my opinion, is that it’s also the last day of four in which the sun rises the latest that it will all year! Though most people recognize that Winter Solstice (on or near December 21st each year) is the shortest day of the year, not as many realize that the sun does not necessarily rise the latest nor set the earliest on that day.

There are countless regional variations, dependent on latitude and longitude, but here in Ottawa, Canada, sunset was actually earliest in the early to mid part of December, arriving around 4:20 PM from December 4 to December 16. By December 17, the sun was already beginning to set later each day! The days were still shortening at that time, however, due to the still-increasing lateness of sunrise – in fact, the sun continued to rise later each day right up to December 31, when it more or less stalled out until today, and tomorrow our days will at last begin to lengthen once more at both ends of the day.

Also interesting to note is that, in the days right around the Winter Solstice, the shortening or lengthening of the days had slowed to a difference of merely a few short seconds each day but already that time has lengthened to a full minute per day and by mid-March the days will be lengthening by over three minutes per day.


While there’s still a lot of winter left, things are already looking up!


Life: Constantly Changing

I knew it had been a while but, looking at the date of my last post, it’s hard to believe it’s been almost two years!

Hard to say why blogging fell off my radar but it’s likely that losing my mother and regaining mobility (via hip replacement), both in the spring of 2011, were two big life changes with some contributing factors. My mom had been a very big part of our lives and her passing had a huge impact on all four of us. At the same time, I was experiencing great physical gains from my hip replacement. It often felt oddly wrong to be suddenly feeling so good at that time. Although it was a period of major adjustment for a while – tough for all of us in different ways – ultimately, we have all regained our equilibrium.

Next, in early 2012, my husband took the plunge and retired. Shortly afterward, a sudden turn of events gave me, amidst much workplace turmoil and anxiety for those around me, the option to retire, without penalty, a few years earlier than expected. By the end of September 2012, we were both retired! That too felt oddly wrong at first, to have landed in a sweet spot when my colleagues were sweating over whether they would survive massive workplace cuts, but I’m happy to say that everyone I worked with, other than those also able to retire, survived the cuts.

So, what have I been doing since then? Well, there’s been a brief return to further education, creation of a business plan, some travel and a boatbuilding project, to name a few things – more to come on all of them in future posts.

I’ll end this one by saying I could not have foreseen a few years ago where I’d be today, however, where I am is good! A big part of it is the fact that my hip replacement has allowed me to return to a far more active life. I’m still amazed when I think about it, but mostly I don’t so much anymore – I’m just too busy, in a wonderfully, physically, pain-free way!

Winter Solstice Celebration, Ottawa?

I’ve wondered for a few years now why a Winter Solstice celebration hasn’t emerged in Ottawa like it has in other places and I envy Toronto and Vancouver with their vibrant celebrations.
So, here we are, two days to go, and I’m wondering, could the following plan get retweeted enough on Twitter to make it happen? Up to you, Ottawa, let’s see …
Here’s the idea – starting at 7:00PM on Winter Solstice (that’s Thursday, Dec. 22 this year), a moving column of light along Scott Street, by the transit way, from the Tunney’s Pasture station to the Westboro station.
How? Get yourself, and some friends and family too, if possible, to either station at that time, with whatever you’ve got to light up the night – lanterns, flashing bike lights, glow stix, etc., and move out onto Scott Street in the direction of the other station, till you meet up with the group doing the same thing from the other station! Got a nice portable noisemaker? Bring it!
So then what? Well, you can either head into Westboro or Hintonburg to warm up at your choice of many fine restaurants and bars or simply (and easily!) get back on a bus and head downtown or elsewhere to continue your celebration, or just be done.
It’s pretty simple. And I think it would be pretty awesome.
Ottawa, it’s in your court now …

Charcuterie: Making Bacon – Part 1

Early in July, I had the pleasure of tucking into a charcuterie plate at Juniper restaurant. I remember only a few things – house ham, duck something – but everything on the plate was wonderfully tasty! Charcuterie dominated my brain in the following days and it wasn’t long till some research on the subject had me searching for the book Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman. A trip to Chapters on Rideau Street put the book in my hands last week and then the hunt began …

I decided to make the first thing addressed in the book – bacon! The required sugar and kosher salt posed no problem but coming up with curing salt and pork belly took some work.

I knew from past experience that pork belly can be had from the local butcher store but has to be ordered and comes at high cost. A Toronto website listed T & T Asian Supermarket as a pork belly source and when I checked our Ottawa T & T store there it was – in approximately one-kilo chunks, at a very reasonable price!

Another site suggested Nicastro’s Italian deli as a source for curing salt and I was able to find it at their Merivale Road location, in a one-kilo bag labeled ReadyCure.

Curing Salt

Now, American recipes (like the ones in the book) call for a product called pink salt or InstaCure, which are 6.25% nitrite. The ReadyCure package didn’t list the percentage of nitrite, nor did the store staff know it, however, the package listed the Toronto manufacturer’s phone number and a quick call revealed it to be 1% nitrite.

After some wish-I-could-say-they-were-quick calculations, I was able to determine that, if I added 600 grams of kosher salt and 675 grams of sugar to my kilo of ReadyCure, I’d have three times the amount of Ruhlman’s basic dry cure (plus a bit more), at the correct percentage of nitrite. So this I did.

I’d picked up two pieces of pork belly and opted for slightly different treatments for each. The first one was dredged in approximately 75 grams of the basic dry cure and sealed in a large Ziplock bag. I did the same to the second one, but added about a quarter-cup of maple syrup. (I’ve a hunch I’ll prefer that one!)

So now it’s a 7-day waiting game, give-or-take a day perhaps, apart from a quick flip of each bag every other day. The meat will leach liquid and firm up over time. Once cured enough, it’ll be time to drain the liquid, rinse the meat, then roast or smoke it, low ‘n slow, to an internal temp of 150 degrees F. I’ve a week to sort out which it will be – while I’d far prefer to smoke it, I’m not sure I have the capability to do it as low ‘n slow as it needs to be done.

Watch for the follow-up to see which method wins and find out how each version tastes once sliced and fried. I sense it’s to be, for me, a rather long week of impatient anticipation. Hope it’s worth it!

Upcoming 2010 Winter Solstice Events in Ottawa

My focus in the past few years has shifted from Christmas to the Winter Solstice. Consequently, here’s a list of various Winter Solstice events that will take place over the next few weeks here in the Ottawa area. This year’s Winter Solstice is a special one too, with a full eclipse of the full moon taking place in the early hours of December 21st!

If you know of any public Solstice events in the region, in addition to those I’ve listed below, feel free to provide the details in a comment. And if you have an interest in furthering Winter Solstice celebrations in and around Ottawa, you might wish to join the Facebook group Winter Solstice Ottawa and comment there as well.

Whether from the following list or elsewhere, I hope you’ll find a fun way to enjoy and appreciate Winter Solstice this year.

Author’s update: Wish there was more on offer in the Ottawa area? Please see my Dec. 11 and Dec. 20 posts.

SLOWest Winter Solstice Community Gathering

When: December 9, 2010, 6 PM to 9 PM
Where: First United/All Saints Anglican Church, 347 Richmond Rd.
Phone: 613-721-9200
Event info:

Join SLOWest on Thursday evening, December 9th for a Solstice Community Gathering. The aim is to align main community gatherings with key seasonal moments like the Winter Solstice but things are just too busy for folks in later December – hence the somewhat advanced date.

Things begin with a pot luck dinner. Feature of the evening will be a video presentation of some of Paul Hawken’s (see ) recent talks on the emerging global social/environmental movement which he sees as ‘our species’ immune system response’.

Stonehenge’s Seasons of the Sun

When: Fri, 10 December 2010, 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Where: Canada Science and Technology Museum, 1867 St. Laurent Blvd.
Event info:

What is a solstice? The ancient Druids knew, and so will you when you make your own seasonal model of the famous circle of stones known as Stonehenge.
Curious about space and astronomy? These hands-on workshops feature a new craft activity each month that encourages exploration of Science and Astronomy, complemented by either a guided tour of the heavens in the inflatable planetarium, a visit to the Canada in Space exhibition, or a visit to the Helen Sawyer Hogg Observatory (weather permitting).

Winter Solstice Celebration of Light!

When: Sunday, December 19, 2010, 6:00 PM
Where: PranaShanti Yoga Centre, 52 Armstrong St.
Cost: 22$ per person. All proceeds donated to the Food Bank.
Phone: 613-761-9642
Event info:

Join PranaShanti owner, Devinder Kaur, and friends from different spiritual and devotional paths for a Winter Solstice Celebration to welcome the light! Warming spiced mulled apple juice and a special Winter Solstice dessert buffet with decadent chocolate fountain, fresh fruit and holiday treats served afterwards.

Winter Solstice
When: Tuesday, December 21, 2010, 10AM – 4PM
Where: Canada Science and Technology Museum, 1867 St. Laurent Blvd.
Cost: Museum admission applies
Event Info:

Celebrate the shortest day of the year with indoor and outdoor activities that the whole family will enjoy at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Winter Solstice Stargazing

When: Tue, 21 December, 7:00PM – 8:30PM
Where: Canada Science and Technology Museum, 1867 St. Laurent Blvd.
Cost: free
Event Info:

View the night sky from the Helen Sawyer Hogg Observatory. Strictly weather-permitting (no indoor presentations). Dress warmly.

Tomato Beef Barley Soup – Hearty, Simple, Delicious!

Today was cold, cloudy and rainy – a perfect soup day and for me few are better than this hearty favourite. The basic recipe is so simple, yet so good, and you can also add in any other veggies you like or have on hand. While I find it easy and economical to use a small quantity of beef shank, which is readily available to me from the Fresh Produce store on Carling Avenue, you could also substitute leftover steak or roast beef. I like the shank though, because of the bone, which I think gives extra flavour.
The following ingredients are more of a guideline – it’s hard to go wrong with soup – so try the basic recipe first, then add or modify as you like to make it your own!

Core ingredients:

1 box Campbell’s beef broth – 900 ml / 30 oz
1 large tin diced tomatoes – 798 ml / 28 oz (unsalted, if possible)
1 thick slice of beef shank (roughly one pound, including the bone)
1 medium-to-large onion (approximately 2 cups, chopped)
1/3 cup barley (I like the pot variety better than the pearl type)
canola oil


pepper & salt to taste
Herbe de Provence, to taste (3 good big pinches for me)
1 Bay leaf

Today’s additions:

2 medium carrots, large-diced
1 ½ cups chopped mushrooms (approximately – I used a large Portobello), sautéed in oil and butter
1 cup green beans, cut or snapped into in one-inch lengths


Put the broth and tomatoes in a large soup pot, cover with a lid, bring it to the boiling point over medium high heat and then reduce heat to a simmer.

Meanwhile, chop the onions, as well as any other vegetable you are using.

If using carrots, add them to the pot.

In a skillet, over medium high heat, brown the beef shank well and transfer, whole, to the pot. Reduce heat under the skillet to medium low, adding oil if necessary, and sauté the onions until softened. Transfer onions to the pot.

If using mushrooms, sauté at high heat, with oil and butter – yes, butter, it was made for mushrooms! – until browned and transfer them to the pot.

Add spices and barley, stir, then simmer, covered, for 45 minutes.

Use tongs or a fork to remove the beef shank from the pot, place it on a cutting board and separate the meat from the bone. Slice the meat, removing any tough cartilage bits, and return the meat to the pot. You can discard the bone at this point or return it to the pot – your choice.

If using green beans, add them to the pot and continue to simmer your soup until the beans are cooked to your liking – for me, that’s about another 20 minutes.

That’s it! Unless, that is, you want to do the one last thing I often do to this soup, which is to stir in a splash or two of red wine. I don’t always do this but, when I do, I like to add it at the end – I think the flavour is better when it’s added just before serving.


Just a note on barley: if you’ve never used it before you need to know that it expands considerably and also thickens the soup. One third of a cup won’t look like enough but it will be when cooked. You could add a bit more – up to a half-cup in total. But any more than that might make for a glutinous mess!