November blog fun.

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It has been quite a few months since I’ve done one of these posts – let’s launch into it right away, shall we?

Have difficulty pronouncing plant names?  Me, too.  I even mangle them when I’m very consciously thinking about how not to – actually, that’s when the tongue-tangling gets truly terrific. This pronounciation guide may help.  At the very least, it’s interesting reading.

You may not live in New England (I don’t!) but your region may include some of the same plant species.  Or, you might just want to have fun with a fully interactive dichotomous key.  I’m here to help – I found this great link from GoBotany that will helpfully ID all 3,500 taxa in New England. I played with it a bit and, as expected, found that we share some of the same plant species here in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Here is another ID tool – this one for bird feathers.  It is from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, so it won’t likely be conclusive in other locations.  As we share many of the same bird species in Canada, it may work in a limited fashion for us.

It’s Canada’s sesquicentennial this year and Mercury Filmworks has created an animated short to illustrate Canada, coast-to-coast.  The artwork is vibrant and fun, and there are some delightful references to some of our most famous pop culture icons.

Here’s another post that celebrates Canada’s history – this time of the Rocky Mountains.  Take a look at this small collection of photos of people working, playing, and living in the mountains – it’s an eye-opening trip!

If you enjoy reading science fiction and you’re particularly interested in the work of writers during the 1950’s, ’60’s, and ’70’s, you may wish to check out this gem: the complete run of IF Magazine from 1952 to 1974 is available to read for free, here.  Some big names wrote for and edited this magazine and if you’re a fan of the genre, you will recognize some of them.  I love that these stories won’t be forgotten.

Writers and film buffs might have fun with this incredibly comprehensive list of narrative devices and tropes.  How many of these do you recognize in your favourite movie or book?  How many of these have you used in your own writing?

Finally, libraries and museums such as the Met, the New York Public Library, and the Smithsonian have made a ton of images from their collections available for everyone to download and…well…colour.  I believe the whole sharing to Twitter part is over with for the year, but you can still access the images for your own use. #ColorOurCollections will likely return in 2018, so watch for it.  Many of these are botanical prints, so that’s rather lovely for anyone who is interested in that sort of thing (me, me!).

Clipart credit.

Alberta snapshot: Bighorn Falls.

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Bighorn Falls, Ya Ha Tinda, Alberta, September 2017.  This was my first time to Ya Ha Tinda, which has the distinction of being “the only federally operated working horse ranch” in Canada. The horses that are raised and trained here are used by Parks Canada staff to patrol the national parks in Alberta and other parts of western Canada.  The ranch has a long history dating back to the early 1900’s, and there is evidence that the site was inhabited well before that!  (You can read more here).  I was absolutely amazed by the incredible wild beauty of the area and a return trip is already planned for next year!

Alberta snapshot: Seven Sisters Mountain.

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I don’t know what season it was when Captain John Palliser and the other members of the British North American Exploring Expedition (more commonly known as the Palliser Expedition) worked their way through the Crowsnest Pass at some point between 1857 and 1860, on their mission to survey a massive chunk of western Canada. If it was in the autumn, with the aspen trees putting on a brilliant show, they were probably especially awed, as I was a few weekends ago, at the magnificence of Seven Sisters Mountain, first named The Steeples by one of the explorers.  Almost one hundred years after the expedition passed through, in 1951, a daring Swiss-born mountaineer named Bruno Engler became the first person to successfully ascend the Seven Sisters, “with considerable difficulty“…and, as this account from 2014 shows, not too many people have attempted it since.  Staying on the ground to admire the impressive “steeples” seems much safer and very, very pleasant.

 

Alberta snapshot: Upper Kananaskis Lake hike.

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This gnarled/gnarly (!) tree stump was posed dramatically in the middle of a massive rock slide area that we crossed on a recent hike around Upper Kananaskis Lake. If you find yourself with a few hours to kill in Kananaskis Country, this is the hike to do – it’s 16 kilometres of incredible scenery and diverse landscapes that are not to be missed.  As a bonus, the elevation gains are minimal so if your knees are a muddled mess like mine, you can still nicely manage.  And there are TWO waterfalls!  Truly difficult to top.

Aaaaaaand then the stump got me thinking about gardening (well, pretty much everything does so that’s not a huge stretch)…and specifically, wildlife and naturescape gardens and stumperies.  I haven’t seen too many designed/planted stumperies in the city, but there is a fantastic one at the Ellis Bird Farm in Lacombe, Alberta that wowed me when I saw it a few years ago. What are your thoughts on converting leftover (dead) tree parts to garden elements? Have you ever done it? If so, how did you go about creating your design?

Flowery Friday.

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I wonder how much soil is under that rock?  I’m guessing, not much.  And I’m not showing it in this photo, but there was snow clinging to the rocks just southeast of where I was standing.  In July.  This common willowherb (Epilobium ciliatum), a close relative of the (ahem!) even more common fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium*, also known as rosebay willowherb), is a mountain plant with heaps of beauty AND brawn.

*In another case of Nomenclature Gone Wild, fireweed was previously known as Epilobium angustifolium.  I can’t yet find an explanation as to why the genus name was changed for this plant and not for common willowherb…but I’ll keep digging.

Alberta snapshot: Johnston Canyon (past the Upper Falls).

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Admission to Canada’s national parks has been free all year as the country celebrates its sesquicentennial, but it’s a gift I hadn’t yet enjoyed…until braving the insane long-weekend crowds in Banff’s Johnston Canyon last Saturday.  Parking was at a premium (thank goodness my brother has a car with a supremely compact exterior and a dimension-bending interior) and the steel catwalks to the spectacular falls were crammed with visitors, but as we ventured past the Upper Falls and headed towards the mineral pools known as the Ink Pots, the throngs thinned out and the scenery kept getting better and better…if such a thing is even possible.  It’s pretty easy to see why everyone is so keen on showing up.

Recipe: Sea buckthorn and apple jelly.

It’s time for my annual visitation of this old-but-relevant post from 2012…’tis the season for harvesting sea buckthorn berries in Alberta (and many other places worldwide)! Tasty AND beautiful!

 

(Photo credit:  R. Normandeau)

My hubby and I managed to get out this past Saturday morning and gather some sea buckthorn fruit so that I could try my hand at making jelly from it.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll recall that I made a sea buckthorn beverage last year – I just love the citrusy taste of the berries and their gorgeous sun-bright colour.

Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) is a fairly common roadside plant here in Calgary – the City planted many of them years ago, mostly for erosion control on slopes.  It’s one of those shrubs you’d be hard-pressed to kill:  it’s tough-as-nails, drought-tolerant, pollution and salt-tolerant (good for our winter roads and all that de-icing salt), and a fairly aggressive spreader.  You don’t find it employed as an ornamental landscape plant very often, but it’s really very pretty, with silvery-green leaf clusters and the brilliant autumn fruit.  (Both male and female plants are required for fruit production).  Sure, some people may be turned off by the thorns, but they contribute to the shrub’s rabbit and deer resistance, which can’t be a bad thing, right?!

The only thing that irks me to no end about gathering sea buckthorn berries is that it’s just such a difficult process – the fruit only comes off the stems under extreme duress.   The kind of duress that leaves you standing there with bright orange seabuckthorn juice all over your clothes and squirted in your eye.  I’ve read that commercial harvesters of the shrub just go along and prune off fruit-bearing branches, freeze them for awhile, and then “shake” the berries free…but I didn’t give that a go.  I ought to have – it took me FOREVER to get the berries off of the branches.

But it’s worth it for this jelly.  Trust me.  It’s so yummy and pretty!

Small-Batch Sea Buckthorn and Apple Jelly

(I added apples to this recipe because I didn’t use commercial pectin – sea buckthorn doesn’t have very much natural pectin, so the addition of a high-pectin fruit helps the jelly set properly.  I had some British Columbia-grown ‘Sunrise’ apples, but use any variety you love.  Crabapples would work as well).

4 cups sea buckthorn berries, washed thoroughly

3 apples, washed, peeled, cored, and diced finely (if you don’t want to go to the trouble, and your apples are organic, you can leave the peels on)

1/2 cup water

Place berries, apples and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer fruit for 20 minutes.  Stir periodically and crush the fruit against the side of the pan with the back of the spoon.  (It all mashes down pretty well on its own, and won’t require much additional help).

Strain the fruit through a jelly bag (or several layers of cheesecloth) over a large bowl.  Don’t force the fruit through the bag – this will make the jelly cloudy and you don’t want that!  Set it up so that the fruit can slowly strain overnight.

In the morning, sterilize your canning jars and lids.   Measure out the juice.  I ended up with 2 cups using this recipe, but your measurement may vary slightly.  Place the juice into a saucepan and mix in an equal amount of white sugar.  Bring the sugar and juice to a rolling boil and boil, stirring constantly, until you’ve reached gel point.

Carefully pour the jelly into the sterilized jars, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (don’t forget to adjust the length of time according to altitude, as specified in this handy chart).  If you plan to eat the jelly soon and don’t want to go to all the trouble of processing jars for storing, you can just pop the jars into the fridge once the jelly is cool.  It is a very small batch, after all…and you’ll be hooked once you have a taste!

Do you grow sea buckthorn in your garden, or do you forage for sea buckthorn berries?  

 Looking for more sea buckthorn berry recipes?

My sea buckthorn berry recipe book, Sea Buckthorn Bounty: Recipes is now available here!

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