Unlike our home in the city, our cottage has a blueberry patch, a small flower garden in front, and off to the side there are five barbecues in various stages of dilapidation. I collect barbecues the way some people rescue strays.
They are part of a collection of recreational oddities that include two unrideable bikes that will one day make their final journey from we can’t live without it to it’s time for a drive to the dump. This is because the cottage is also a repository where nothing is thrown out.
At home, an upper duplex in Montreal, there is sufficient room in which to swing a cat – should the cat desire to be swung – but not much more.
The cottage, however, has acreage. Some of this is lawn, then there are 50 meters or so of shrubbery leading to the shore, and a large wooded area reaching back to the road.
Trees need to be trimmed, hedges cut back, a lawn mowed. Each requires separate tools. When we started, about 20 years ago, I disdained power tools and was determined to do everything by hand. We bought a grass scythe for the lawn, several trimmers and hedge clippers, and a 24-inch bow saw to cut down trees. If you are not familiar with a bow saw, imagine an archery bow with the string replaced by a saw blade. Clearly this is not for use around the house especially if your house has barely enough room for cat swinging.
And so hedges were trimmed, the lawn chopped to size, and trees cut and pruned, all done manually. Within days lactic acid was building up, muscles I never knew I had were aching, and I was slowly progressing from yard warrior to invalid.
Soon after, we started acquiring the necessities: a gas powered lawn mower, electric hedge clippers, and glory of glories, a chain saw. Not only were these easier to use, they brought out my internal putterer since they require constant tinkering, judiciously mixing oil and gas, cleaning blades and tightening screws.
Equally important were the meaningful conversations I could now have with my neighbours about the virtues of lawn mower mulching blades or splicing techniques when I cut the cord on the hedge trimmer. Power tools made me part of the gang. I was no longer that eccentric guy who uses a scythe and has managed to keep both his legs intact.
As to the hand tools. Well, we can’t throw them away. They remain ready for duty hanging on the porch wall. Young folk can stop by and inquire about tools of yesteryear the way they might ask about our land line or board games. Yup, we have those too. If you make it out here, the museum is open and admission is free.
Toaster oven ribs
When possible I like to cook ribs at a low temperature for several hours on one of the barbecues. However, a toaster oven works in a pinch.
Ours is large enough to hold several beef or pork ribs at a temperature of between 180F and 225F. I sprinkle them with salt and freshly ground pepper and put them on a rack which goes over a pan that fits in the oven.
I mix a quarter cup of cider vinegar with a half a can of beer (chicken or beef stock works too) and pour this into the pan. The ribs sit above the liquid. (If the oven was large I would put a piece of foil or parchment paper on top of the ribs, leaving room for air to circulate around the meat.) The ribs braise above the liquid. I can leave them for a couple of hours like this without worrying that they will be overdone.
When the meat starts to come off the bone I take them from the oven, pour off the braising liquid and remove the fat from that. I mix the liquid with enough ketchup to thicken it. This makes an excellent BBQ sauce to brush on the ribs. Then I grill them for a few minutes on the BBQ or under the broiler in the toaster oven to crisp them up.