Tuesday tidbits.

A co-worker recently recommended the book Stitches to Savor and the website (here) of a marvelous quilt-maker, expert embroiderer, and (as my colleague stated) “rock star” of the stitching world, Sue Spargo.  The book was written in 2015 and as the subtitle states, it is a “celebration of designs by Sue Spargo,” created from wool, embellishments of scraps of silk, velvet and other fabrics, beads, various threads and so on.  I was previously unfamiliar with Spargo’s work and to say that I was absolutely blown away by it is a massive understatement.  The photography in the book is utterly stunning as well, capturing the intricate detail of the motifs so perfectly that you can almost feel the textures. What an inspiring treat, and highly recommended if you can track it down at your local library.

I don’t know if any of you out there are soap makers (I’m not, but it’s on an unfathomably gigantic list of things that I want to pursue some day), but if you are or if you want to try something new, this recipe for Gardener’s Soap might be right up your alley.  When she lived in Calgary, I worked at the library with Margot, the owner and creator of Starfish Soap Company, and this is one of my favourite soaps that she makes. She is based out of Gabriola Island, in British Columbia.

My favourite recipe from last week?  These Chocolate Chip Blondies with Chocolate Ganache that I made for my hubby’s b-day.  The recipe is so easy you think it can’t possibly be accurate, but it is and the end result is decadent, sweet, and definitely special-occasion-worthy.  You could omit the ganache if it’s not someone’s birthday, I guess, but why not go big and bold? It’s chocolate, after all.

Have an amazing week!

Tuesday tidbits.

If you love peonies, this post about “peony anatomy” may be of interest. Or you can just ogle the beautiful photos. Either way, it’s a win.

I found a really cool site containing microscope photography by Dr. Gary Greenberg – my favourite pics are of the jewel-like sand grains, here, but the whole gallery is worth a gander.

Yummy recipe alert: these muffins are tops!  Except I didn’t have ube and substituted yellow-fleshed sweet potatoes…plus, I didn’t add walnuts due to my allergies, and I skipped the glaze, as it really isn’t necessary and sort of makes them cupcakes instead of muffins, doesn’t it? They’re sweet enough as they are, but the glaze would make them special-occasion-worthy: like a “I managed to get out of bed this morning to go to work, so let’s celebrate!” kind of muffin/cupcake/whatever.

Even if you’re not a fan of Martha Stewart, her latest book Martha’s Flowers is absolutely droolicious (drooleriffic?). I know, I’m making words up here but there aren’t sufficient superlatives in the English language to describe the photography and artful styling in this book.  If you can get your hands on a copy from your local library, do treat yourself.  I haven’t even gotten around to reading the text yet (ahem) as I keep staring at the photos and stammering out awe-struck gibberish.

From the Boast and Braggart files…a couple of articles I wrote about herb gardening have been recently published: “Tea Time: Growing Herbs for Tisanes” appears in the Winter 2018 issue of Archive magazine, and “Designing a Meadow Garden” is featured in the Winter issue of Herb Quarterly.

Have a wonderful week!

Tuesday tidbits.

While putting away picture books at work this past week, I came across an illustrator I am now officially absolutely gaga over: Sonja Danowski.  You can see some of the work she did for Michael Rosen’s story Forever Flowers here, as well as a gallery of other art she has done. An incredible talent!

Despite its name, the site American Literature doesn’t feature strictly American authors; it’s actually a great source of public domain short fiction, novels, and poetry from writers from all over the world.  Enjoy!

Although I found it a bit late (the article was published in June of last year), this information about discovering rare plants in Hawai’i using drones is fascinating (and you have to watch the breathtaking video at the end!).

Have you ever come across a dead tree with an odd spiral shape?  I’ve found a few examples on our mountain hikes but unfortunately the only photograph I have of one was taken with a film camera way back in the early 2000’s and a printed copy that I can scan and post isn’t immediately at hand.  Although the title of this article is sort of misleading, the explanation it offers is accurate. Another interesting thing to watch for during those walks in the woods!

My fave “new” recipe of last week?  This sweet and sour chicken. (I didn’t make the fried rice; I just served it over hot cooked basmati. I reduced the sugar to 1/2 cup, cut back the vinegar to about 1/3 cup, and used only one egg).  Easy and delicious!

Tuesday tidbits.

Does anyone out there grow paprika peppers?  I’ve used sweet paprika in a few recipes but just recently discovered smoked paprika when I made a spice mix for use as a dry rub in grilling. Now I’ve been putting smoked paprika on everything: scrambled eggs, baked potatoes, slow cooked beans…and as everyone but me seems to have already known, it elevates deviled eggs to a seriously crazy pinnacle of excellence.  I’m curious, what are your favourite ways to use this fantastic little spice in cooking? (Tell me how you use other types of paprika as well!). And if you’ve grown the peppers, please tell me about your successes (or failures) with them.  I don’t think I can easily grow them here without the benefit of a greenhouse, but I am nevertheless very interested….

I came across a fascinating article about the history of embroidery – although it references 900 years of the craft, it’s a very brief overview so it won’t take you long to read.  The photos are fantastic, too.  Check it out here.

Whether you’re a reader or a writer, you may enjoy this little piece posted up at Tor.com – it’s a thought-provoking take on writing botany into fantasy fiction.  How do you name and describe plants that exist in worlds that aren’t real?  Stuff like this is why writing is so fun….

Oh yes, and let’s cycle back to food: I posted a recipe for zucchini and salmon loaf up at Grit.com last week. Use fresh salmon if you have it. If you’re vegetarian, I think you could make a variation with scrambled tofu.  And throwing in a few diced mushrooms and red or yellow peppers would be pretty yummy, too.  Don’t forget the smoked paprika!  ♥


Tuesday tidbits.

Time-lapse photography is awesome.  It’s even more awesome when it features spring flowers.  Don’t miss this! 

Here are some great photos illustrating crown shyness in trees. Next time you’re in a heavily wooded area, look up – maybe you’ll spot a display. I keep thinking I’ve seen it in aspens, but I have no documentation of it…I’m now on a mission to photograph it if I come across it. I’m not sure if Populus is a genus that exhibits it – not all trees do.

My article, “Growing Green Flowers,” published in the Winter 2017-18 issue of Heirloom Gardener, is available to read online here.

I didn’t do a lot of holiday baking, but this ginger cookie recipe was so good, I made more than one batch.  It’s gluten free but if you don’t have dietary restrictions, you should be easily able to substitute wheat flour for the GF blend.  The almond flour may also be successfully swapped out with the GF blend (or wheat flour) as well. And it’s cool if you want to omit the candied ginger, too – just add a touch more ground ginger.  ♥

Recipe: Cranberry persimmon jam (small batch).

I know, I know, you’re probably tired of cooking for the holiday season already and the thought of doing more at this very moment doesn’t exactly inspire or thrill.  But, actually…this recipe pretty much cooks itself and the combination of ingredients is rather festive.  An added bonus: while it’s on the stovetop, your kitchen will smell delightful and afterwards, you’ll have something unique and special to serve up to your guests.

This jam isn’t subtle or summery in flavour – it’s full-on winter celebration, warmly spicy and rich.

Cranberry Persimmon Jam (small batch, yield: just over 2 cups)

12 ounces fresh cranberries, washed well (this year, I was so pleased to find cranberries grown in Canada – straight out of Nova Scotia!)

3 fuyu persimmons, peeled, mashed (a potato masher should do the trick, as will a hand blender)

1 heaping teaspoon ground cardamom

1 piece star anise

juice of 1/2 lime

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Throw all the ingredients into a large saucepan and stir together.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately turn the heat to low.  You want a consistent low boil – if bits of cranberry and persimmon are festooning the frosty kitchen windows in a pulpy sort of garland and colourful hot fruit dribbles are being catapulted into your Christmas tree as it stands sedately in the living room, you’ve got it on too high.

It will take time to boil this all down – about one hour, more or less.  You don’t have be present the entire time, but you cannot forget about it for too long.  Every once in a while, in between topping up your wine glass and wiping the cranberry-persimmon spatter off the chandelier (because you accidentally had the mixture on too high when you first got started), you will have to stir it.  Just so the sugar doesn’t burn.  Trust me on that one.  Burnt sugar sets off the smoke detector.  And your neighbours really don’t like that when it’s only six in the morning.  But, that’s another recipe from another time….

When the fruit and sugar have cooked down and everything is all jammy and fragrant and you can’t resist taking a bit of a taste, then it’s time to remove it from the heat and pack it into clean mason jars.  Don’t forget to remove the star anise chunk or someone is going to get a tooth-destroying, aggressively licorice-y surprise when they bite down.

Seal and refrigerate the jars when the contents have cooled down and enjoy!  Try to use it all up within three or four days.  That won’t be difficult.

*I think you could substitute a good honey for the sugar without any problems.  I am going to try this next time, and I will update this post if I find that it works.

**I think cinnamon would be lovely with this as well.  I’m also thinking about a whole vanilla bean.  And cardamom pods, versus the ground stuff.  Hmmmm….

***You could definitely process this in a boiling water canner for longer, safe storage.  You could also increase the size of the batch.

****I took a photograph of the jam as it was cooking in the pan, but let’s just say I’m a tad better at shooting landscapes and flowers.  You know what jam looks like.  😉

What are your favourite recipes using cranberries?




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!