Air plants, cats, snow.

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So, it keeps snowing here and our cat eats pretty much all my stuff, including my houseplants.  (Of course, she leaves all my hubby’s possessions alone – his newspaper apparently doesn’t taste nearly as delicious as my research notes or my library books).

My solution?  Grow air plants. You do this indoors so the snow doesn’t matter a whit. The air plants I can afford are tiny.  They don’t need soil (soil, another thing Smudge thinks is seriously PAWsome – um, did I just write that?!). I can put them in jars and other decorative containers and hang or place them out of cat reach, which is an actual zone in the house with a fixed length and breadth that has taken me a year to get a solid grasp of.

Anyway, now I fear I may want to collect the darn things.  (The air plants, not cats.  Smudge is ALL the cat).*  I accidentally went to the garden centre the other day (had to take two trains and walk three blocks uphill both ways in the blasting wind) and came home with yet another air plant.  I would have bought the large red one as well (it was RED!) except it was priced at the equivalent of a few hours of my salary and I thought maybe my hubby might be a bit grumpy with me.  So I’m saving up for it.  I’ll tell him it’s cheaper than a new car, and he cannot argue with that.  I just wish they would label the silly things so I would know the cultivars. Tillandsia doesn’t help me; I knew that already.  😉  And I BEG and PLEAD that the ones in some of the grocery stores would be treated with more dignity and not GLUED into their containers.   They cannot be watered properly and they’ll keel over at some point from neglect.  Air plants are not made of plastic.  They are actually alive and need some care.

While meandering through reams of information about air plants for an article I recently wrote, I came across some fantastic titles at the library – if you are interested in this captivating genus, track down Air Plant Care and Design by Ryan and Meriel Lesseig and Zenaida Sengo’s Air Plants.  The Lesseig book, in particular, is brilliant, impeccably researched and extremely detailed.

Do you grow air plants?  

Do you have an indoor cat (or cats)?  What creative solutions did you come up with to maintain your houseplants in the same space as your curious feline?

*Pic here. ♥

Floral notes: Late summer and into autumn.

When they say time is flying by, what is its mode of transport, actually? Eagle wings? Lear jet? Rocket?

Trips and treks:

My hubby, my brother, a friend, and I wandered around Powderface Ridge in Kananaskis Country in mid-August…my hubby and I didn’t go to the summit, choosing instead to enjoy the scenery  and the sunshine at a spectacular outcropping.  Next year we’ll make another attempt, this time from the south!

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The garden:

As of two weeks ago, I’ve wrapped up things in the community garden, finally getting the garlic sown and a handful of parsnip seed chucked into my raised bed before mulching and heading home for the winter.  Before the snow fell at the end of September and the first week of October, I made nearly daily trips to the garden to collect seed and came out with large stashes of calendula, nasturtium, and dill seeds; as well as enough lovage seeds to share with several gardeners in the Alberta Gardening Facebook group.  Aside from truly pathetic performances from my zucchini, pumpkin, and pattypan squash plants, I am pleased with my veggie yields this year – I had pleasantly decent harvests of shallots, potatoes, turnips, bush beans, kohlrabi, dill, and parsley.  As for flowers, the wet weather proved more than suitable for them, and I had a lovely turnout by the sunflowers (tiny, cuddly ‘Teddy Bear’ seen below), several cultivars of sweet peas and nasturtiums, and calendula. Since then, it has snowed several more times, and more of the white stuff is on its way this weekend.  My winter coat is getting an autumn workout!

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Worthy reads:

The Delicate Storm by Giles Blunt.  This gripping, gritty mystery series featuring police detectives John Cardinal and Lise Delorme is set in the fictional city of Algonquin Bay, Ontario (modeled after the author’s hometown of North Bay). The Delicate Storm follows the first novel Forty Words for Sorrow, with a thoroughly engrossing story that draws connections to the events during a particularly troubling time in the history of the province of Quebec. In this second novel, the writing is polished and the characters are more fully realized than in the first book. Call me officially hooked!

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Kathyrn Scanlan’s Aug 9 – Fog.  This remarkable title may not be to everyone’s taste, but I was absolutely captivated by it.  Over a period of a decade or so, Scanlan excerpted the contents of a stranger’s diary – a battered, everyday object she picked up for free at an estate sale – and then put the pieces back together again in different ways, creating an entirely new work that encapsulates Scanlan’s intentions, as well as the words of the original writer (one Cora E. Lacy, from rural Illinois, who began writing the diary in 1968, when she was eighty-six years old).  The result is a snapshot into the life of a woman who did the laundry, washed her hair, watched the garden grow, put up preserves, went to church, socialized with friends, had the aches and pains associated with old age, and who mourned the deaths of loved ones.  Her life was not extraordinary, but Scanlan has painstakingly taken the woman’s daily ruminations and lent them a gravity and majesty that is simply breathtaking to read.  “Terrible windy   everything loose is travelling.”

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The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century by Kirk W. Johnson.  This story – of an obsessed fly tier who steals several rare and massively valuable bird skins from the Natural History Museum at Tring, in the United Kingdom – has so many crazy twists and turns that it’s REALLY difficult to remember that it’s not fiction.  Johnson’s meticulous research, polished writing, and (dare I say it?) perfectly breathtaking pacing elevate this true crime account to special heights.  And the conservation angle doesn’t hurt, either – the statistics about human influence on species diversity are devastating.  I came away furiously angry and heartbroken…for more than one reason.

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Me blathering about me: 

I’ve had a slow year, as far as publishing fiction goes…once again, I’ve been focused primarily on writing non-fiction and my fictional work has fallen by the wayside.  I will, however, have a very short story called “Opening Night” published on selected cardboard coffee sleeves that will be used in several independent coffee shops in Edmonton, Alberta. The sleeves will be printed near the end of this year or early 2020 so I’ll have to ask my Edmonton friends to go drink a bunch of coffee (hot chocolate?  rum in a coffee cup?) and track down my tale.  😉  And…my micro-fiction horror story “Seams” was also just published in the Scary Snippets Hallowe’en anthology, currently out as an e-book and available very soon in print format.

Cook (and bake) this: 

This pumpkin bread is gluten free, but you can sub regular flour if you don’t need to eat GF. And it looks like it’s fairly easy to make this vegan as well.  If you have to adhere to a gluten free diet, this bread may make you tear up with joy – it doesn’t have the consistency of typical GF baked goods (which are either powdery or rubbery or somehow, illogically, both at once).

This is the best slow-cooker whole chicken recipe I’ve ever found. When time flies, a slow cooker is a necessity; it balances the space-time continuum or something.  Yes, that’s it, I’m sure….

Really, it’s just chicken, but it’s seriously delicious chicken.

 

As always, thanks so much for reading!  If you want to, please share some fun projects you’re working on, recipes you’ve recently tried and loved, your plans for the next couple of months leading into the holiday season.  (Feel free to put up a link to your blog, if you like – I’ve been trying to keep up with the WordPress Reader but it’s impossible, and my email inbox is a nightmare befitting the recent ghoulish holiday.  Plus, this way, others can head over to your site and see your posts as well).  Have an amazing weekend!  ♥

Garden snapshot: Parsley.

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When asked about “seriously hardy and reliable” herbs for our climate, parsley is always a ready answer. I grew both Italian (flat leaf, seen here) and French (curly leaf) this year – I love them both and can never decide which one is my favourite. I harvested the leaves from all of my plants in late September and we’ve had two snowstorms and a couple of weeks of hard overnight frosts since then, and they are still merrily growing away. If the weather holds, I will get another handful of fresh leaves yet before winter settles in.  Sweet!  I won’t dig these up to overwinter as I have no room indoors (and they won’t last five minutes with our cat)…but I’ve had parsley overwinter inground in the past so perhaps it will be a gift that keeps on giving next year.

Another type of parsley I’ve grown in the past is root (Hamburg) parsley – our growing season is so short in Calgary that I don’t get really large roots from the plants, but I’ve had decent success with them each year I’ve put them in.  And, as a bonus, you can eat the tops as well.  A hugely versatile plant!

Is parsley a favourite of yours, as well?

Larch love!

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It’s easy to see why I adore larch trees, particularly in autumn.

And yes, that is snow in the background! We’ve had two significant snow storms in Calgary since September 29th. The first one dumped 31 centimetres (12.2 inches) of the white stuff on us (which, amazingly, wasn’t a record, although it was close).  More snow is expected early next week so I had better try to get my garlic planted in the next few days!

Recipe: Sea buckthorn berry and apple jelly – plus, an e-book of sea buckthorn berry recipes!

I originally posted this entry way back in 2012, and followed it up several years later by publishing an e-book chock-full of sea buckthorn berry recipes.  As it is harvest time for these pretty delicacies in many locations, and I’m seeing a few requests for recipes, I’m going to post this again for anyone who is interested!

Recipe: Sea buckthorn berry and apple jelly.

(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 awhile, 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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Flowery Friday.

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We’re nearing mid-September and the nights are downright chilly, but there is still a fair amount of summery colour lingering in Beaulieu Gardens at Lougheed House.  To read a bit about this historic site, which dates to 1891, click here.  And if you get a chance to visit Calgary, be sure to stop in for a tour – the mansion is gorgeously appointed and the grounds feature a spectacular variety of plants during the growing season.

Terrific turnips.

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Thanks to a lovely and extremely generous gift of veggie seeds from my friends Angie and Lisa, I finally grew turnips for the first time this year.  I hadn’t previously given this crop a go, as turnips are one of the vegetables my hubby hates the most – and believe me, he hates nearly all vegetables equally, so this is saying something.

I yanked a few of the sizeable roots out of the garden last week and was thrilled that they were pretty much perfect for turnips…sort of beautiful, even, especially if you squint a little and overlook the flea-beetle-bitten leaves. Okay, that may be going too far, but still…colour me impressed. The phrase “low-maintenance” doesn’t even begin to describe how easy these things are to grow.  I’m sure it helped that our summer weather was so rainy and chilly, but I’m going to claim it’s because I’m just such a good gardener.  😉

So…hit me with your favourite turnip recipes! (Or if you hate them like my hubby does, chime in so that he doesn’t feel so alone, LOL).

I see turnip puff in my future!