The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter – September 2020.

The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter

September 2020

Welcome to the fifth issue of The Guides for the Prairie Gardener Newsletter! Janet Melrose and I are keeping you up-to-date on everything related to our book series Guides for the Prairie Gardener, letting you know about what other Prairie gardening-related projects we’re working on, and throwing in some gardening trivia and newsy tidbits, just for fun!  If you like what you see, please follow us on our social media and hit the subscribe button on Flowery Prose.

Book News and Events

Janet’s chat on CBC Radio’s Daybreak

On August 15, Janet did an amazing interview with Russell Bowers on CBC Radio’s Daybreak programme, talking about our books in the Guides for the Prairie Gardener series and what to watch out for in the garden in late summer! Take a listen to the interview here! 

Request for reviews!

Do you have a copy of either of (or both of!) our books, The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Vegetables and The Prairie Gardener’s Go-To for Pests and Diseases? If you do, can you please help us out and take a couple of minutes to give us a rating and review on Amazon.ca/Amazon.com?  Don’t worry about leaving a lengthy review…two or three words is honestly all Amazon requires.  If you’re on GoodReads, leaving a rating over there would be wonderful, as well!  Thank you so much! We are so grateful for your support and encouragement and we hope you are finding the books informative, useful, and fun!

In Our Gardens

Sheryl:

Well, the first frost has already happened here in Calgary and so I’ve been watching the forecast like a hawk and covering the tomatoes as required. I swear, my tomatoes have been covered nearly the whole growing season – first, to protect them against the threat of multiple hailstorms, and now this!  I have already harvested a pleasantly sizeable yield of ripe and ready currant tomatoes and my husband and I have been enjoying them in salads and I’ve been taking them to work just to snack on.  I’m still waiting on my precious ‘Black Krim’ tomatoes, though…they are still green and I’m waiting on a bit of a blush to happen.  If you pick them when they are TOO green, they won’t ripen indoors…you have to reach that special threshold.

‘Candyland Red’ currant tomatoes (photo by Sheryl)

I have picked quite a few lovely zucchinis over the past several weeks and they’ve been cooked up in various ways in my kitchen.  Did you know that you can shred zucchini, drain the excess water from it, then pack it into bags and freeze it for later use?  It’s a good solution if you’re swimming in summer squash! I saw a great tip in the Alberta Gardening group on Facebook last week from a gardener who goes one step further and freezes the shredded zucchini after packing it into the cups of a muffin tin. When it’s ready, she just snaps out the iced zuke pops, bags them individually, and puts them back in the freezer. Nice and tidy and ready for that chocolate zucchini cake at a moment’s notice!

And I’ve been saving seeds…calendula, dill, nasturtiums, beans, and sweet peas so far.  I can’t stress enough the importance of labelling the plants that you want to save seed from so that you can easily locate them later on when they’ve stopped blooming. This year, I just tucked in some old wooden skewers I had kicking around and fashioned a tag with a piece of coloured tape.  I wrote the colour of the flowers on the tape – for example: a calendula with DBL (double flowers) with BRN CENT (brown centres).  I planted several types of calendula this year and wanted to differentiate the doubles from the singles, and identify the colours.  I also had several colours of nasturtiums, so I tagged them to remind myself where the red ones were in the sea of cream-coloured ones.  You’ll be sure to come up with a labelling system of your own – just remember to do it in advance, as it makes seed saving much easier.  I always think I am going to remember the exact location of everything but I never do….

One of the double-flowered calendula plants I am keen to save seed from … (photo by Sheryl)

If you’re planning to save seed from your sweet peas, I’ve done up a little video with some tips – check it out: 

And I’m talking about saving dill seed here:

Floral Miscellany

Sheryl:

Did you know…that hawthorn berries are not really berries at all? They are pomes. (Apples and pears are pomes, too).  Hawthorn berries are commonly called “haws”; rather reminiscent of the ‘’hips” from roses. (And, in fact, hawthorns are related to both apples and roses – they’re in the same family). Right now, you’ll be seeing the bright red fruit on hawthorn trees growing on the prairies – they look a bit like tiny ornamental crabapples or indeed, like oversized rose hips.  I’ve been experimenting with making jelly from hawthorn berries…stay tuned for a blog post containing the recipe! 

Hawthorn “haws” (photo by Sheryl)

Get Social with Us! 

Sheryl: 

Facebook: @FloweryProse

Twitter: @Flowery_Prose

Instagram: @flowery_prose

Janet:

Facebook: calgaryscottagegardener

Twitter: @calcottagegdnr

Instagram: calgaryscottagegardener

‘Til later!  ♥Sheryl and Janet

Nasturtium flower infused vinegar.

Nasturtiums are always tucked into my vegetable garden. They are bountiful seed producers, and although I give away plenty, I still always have huge envelopes stuffed with seeds…so I’m a bit free with the sowing. I love how they bloom abundantly and beautifully right up until frost takes them.

You can eat the green seeds, if you’re so inclined – they are fabulous pickled if you’re into their unique peppery taste. The flowers have the same flavour, albeit milder, and are often used in green salads. This year, I was keen on making an infused vinegar with them, along the lines of the one I make from chive flowers.

All you need are two ingredients and a clean, sterilized jar with a tightly fitting lid and you’re good to go. Wash the nasturtium blossoms to get rid of all the insects and soil and other assorted things we don’t want to eat, then pack them tightly into a mason jar. Add white wine vinegar (my recommendation) or plain white vinegar and seal the jar. Place it in a cool, dark cupboard for about two weeks, then strain the flowers from the vinegar and discard them. Label the vinegar and keep it in the fridge. Aim to use it up within two to three months.

Do you grow nasturtiums in your garden? Do you eat them?

Recipe: Swiss chard (or beet green) soup.

I have a question for all of you long-time bloggers!  Do you periodically go through past entries in your blog and do a refresh? (Fix broken links, add new updates, redo or add new photos etc.)?  Flowery Prose turned ten years old in March of this year and while I’ve tweaked a few little things here and there, particularly with the themes, I haven’t ever done a thorough clean up of old posts.  What is your process for doing this?  Or have you just left everything as is?

This recipe is from an old post that I’ve revised to better categorize the content.  Finding it again was a bit fortuitous, as this spring I decided to use up some old Swiss chard seeds I had kicking around – and had excellent germination rates with them. (Don’t chuck ancient seeds! The charts may “say” they’re not viable after a certain point but it never hurts to try. If you’ve stored them properly, you might have a chance at success).  The plants are still small – again, as with everything this year, I’ll just chalk that up to our wacky spring weather – so I’m not attaching a photograph.  No need to brag.  😉

Swiss Chard (or Beet Green) Soup

5 cups chopped fresh Swiss chard or beet greens (or a combination of the two)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 tbsp milk (dairy or non-dairy, such as cashew)

freshly cracked pepper to taste

1/2 cup Havarti cheese, shredded (use a vegan substitute, if preferred)

Sauté the chard or beets, the garlic, and the onions in olive oil in a large saucepan until the greens are reduced.  Add the stock and simmer for 30 minutes over low heat.  Remove the soup from the heat, cool it slightly, then carefully purée it with a hand blender. Add the milk and cheese and reheat gently (do not boil).  Add pepper to taste.

Yield: 2 generous servings

What are your favourite ways to eat Swiss chard and/or beet greens?  Or do you dislike them entirely?

A few books by Prairie authors.

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If you’re a birder in the Prairie provinces and want to check a few prime locations off of your bucket list, this book is indispensable!  Best Places to Bird in the Prairies is written by experts in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and it is filled with detailed tips on how to get to each destination, a description of the type of conditions and facilities to expect when you get there, and – most importantly! – a snapshot of which species to anticipate (depending on the time of year).  Make sure this compact guidebook by John Acorn, Alan Smith, and Nicola Koper has a permanent place in your bag with your camera and binoculars  – you’ll find yourself eagerly consulting it to plan your next outing.

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Landscape architect, university professor, world traveler, artist, and self-proclaimed “Prairie girl,” Calgarian Beverly A. Sandalack has created an utterly delightful cookbook/travelogue/sketchbook in Recipes & Ramblings (2019).  The recipes are derived from international cuisine and seem perfectly accessible to any cook, regardless of experience. Her anecdotes about her travels are fascinating and candid, and, combined with her beautiful photography and illustrations, Sandalack’s “ramblings” are thoroughly engaging. The book is available in Calgary at select stores – click here to see where you can buy it if you’re in the city.  (Some of these stores may be closed or available for delivery or curbside pickup only as I write this post in early April).

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Calgary author Ramona Heikel has written a couple of important children’s nonfiction books for Beech Street Books: Black History in Canada: Famous Black Canadians (2019) and Immigration to Canada – Then and Now: Chinese Immigrants in Canada (2018). Click on the titles to check out descriptions of the books and her experiences writing them on her blog, Happily Writing.  A huge congratulations, Ramona!

What are you reading right now?

 

 

Floral notes: Mid-November.

Vodka irrigation, dapper plants with stripes, peppery baked goods, and an inspiring, marvellous book – it’s all here in this post!

Stuff about plants:

I somehow came home with paperwhite bulbs after my last trip to the garden centre.  (Don’t worry – I paid for them…I just didn’t originally intend to buy them. The bulbs just looked so lovely sitting their in the bins, and they were such a good price, and I had some other stuff to buy, anyway…and well, that’s how it all starts).  Then they sat in the den for a few weeks until I remembered that they existed and maybe I ought to do something about them.  I haven’t forced paperwhites in years and I previously always did so in soil, but this year, I’m trying them in water, as it appears to be the more popular method. And I’m going to water them with a dribble of vodka to keep them from getting way too tall and flopping over (see here for more information).  What is your preferred media for forcing paperwhites: soil or water? Or do you simply not bother with them, because you don’t like their (admittedly a tad cloying) fragrance? 

I believe I’ve mentioned that the library where I work has amazing natural light due to the huge bay windows set into the east wall as well as skylights that extend up the full length of the north and east sides.  One of my co-workers overwinters her geraniums in the windows, and she cultivates a variety of houseplants there all year ’round: jade plants, miniature Dieffenbachias, various cultivars of cacti, and aloe vera.  A few days ago, we added to the jungle, taking in a massive collection of very large, very mature houseplants of a friend of my co-worker.  The plants needed somewhere to stay for a few weeks while the owners move house, and the prospect of all that great light and good nurturing were welcomed.  I am enamoured with these additions to our workspace and I suspect I will be sad to see them go when they head off to their new home.  I particularly love this beautiful Dracaena fragrans (‘Warneckii’, I believe, but I welcome any corrections on that one – there are so many types of Dracaena!).

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Worthy read:

Cynthia Reyes’ Twigs in My Hair.  I was absolutely thrilled to have the honour of being one of the first readers of Cynthia’s new book, a beautifully-written garden memoir. (And if you already own a copy of the book, you’ll notice a bit of what I’ve written here printed on the back cover). Twigs in My Hair is infused with the wonder and connectivity of gardens and their gardeners, of the natural world and our place within it. Cynthia gifts us with the crunch of brilliantly-coloured autumn leaves, the ethereal silence of a fresh snowfall, and the exquisite splendour of the first spring ephemerals. She invites us into her warm kitchen, with the burnished wooden table laden with canning jars filled with the harvest. We are welcomed into many beautiful gardens – some hers, some belonging to friends and family and mentors – and we delight in the rewards of labour and love, treasure the time spent with loved ones, and share the intense pain of struggle and heartache.  Cynthia writes about gardening (and living!) with the wisdom and experience gained over time – and she doesn’t forget to share a few laughs along the way.  Whether you are a seasoned gardener or a complete novice, you’ll see yourself somewhere in these pages, and I guarantee you’ll garner some inspiration for your own gardening life.  Think about picking up this one as a holiday gift for the gardener in your life! Check out Cynthia’s website here.

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Enabling cookies: 

Finally, I’m thinking about Christmas cookies (I won’t make them for a few weeks but the THINKING is happening).  Does anyone have a tried and true recipe for Pfeffernusse?  I love them but have never made them before.  I found a zillion recipes online but the ingredients (and the measurements of said ingredients) vary significantly.  What other cookies are your holiday favourites?  Tell me about them! 

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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Floral notes: March 2019.

A couple of sweet treats for the start of the week!

A crazy beautiful cookbook:

You could acquire Marit Hovland’s Bakeland: Nordic Treats Inspired by Nature and actually make the recipes – I would highly encourage it!  But, really, this cookbook is the most deliriously glorious eye candy you’ll have the pleasure of perusing in absolute ever, so you should spend some quality time simply ogling.  A celebration of baking, organized seasonally and inspired by Scandinavian ingredients and design, Bakeland is so pretty you’ll drool.  I have no decorating skills so I’m going to stick to the Spice Cake with Cinnamon Almonds.  Because chocolate icing is possible for people like me.

If you want a preview of some of the book’s insanely gorgeous food photos, click here. (2018, Greystone Books, Vancouver)

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Eat some berries:

If you’re cleaning out the freezer and you find a package of frozen raspberries, make this sauce.  I reduced the sugar by a smidge (which is, of course, a completely technical cooking term). Then eat it out of the saucepan (ahem!) and pretend it’s summer already. Do. It.

Do you have any tidbits to share? – for example, projects you’re working on, new things you’ve learned, delicious or interesting new foods you’ve tried, delightful books or TV shows or movies, or a piece of music or art you’ve created or enjoyed?  

 

 

Recipe: Cocoa-Chili Roasted Pumpkin/Winter Squash Seeds.

As I speak, there is a roasted butternut squash-parsnip-carrot-sweet potato soup going on in my house.  (My take on this recipe, in which the OP probably didn’t spatter hot soup all over the backsplash and the outside of the front door and the neighbour’s Hallowe’en decorations even though she was really, really careful and wore an apron and a welder’s helmet and everything).

The point of this? (Besides the fact that there is soup happening and it’s perfect for these chilly evenings when snow is threatening).  The squash seeds!  Don’t throw them away.  Grow them in your garden next year or roast them.  I did the latter, and decided I’d use a familiar flavour combination in a new-ish way:

Cocoa-Chili Roasted Pumpkin/Winter Squash Seeds

Do this first: preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (150 degrees Celsius).

Then throw the raw seeds that you just scooped out of your squash (ew, that sounds a tad impolite – my apologies) into a small saucepan.  Add 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Turn the heat down and simmer for about 15 minutes. Drain the water from the seeds and pat the seeds dry with a paper towel.

Lay the seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper.  Now comes the tricky part – adjusting the measurements that I sort of winged in the first place.

For 1/2 cup seeds, add:

1 teaspoon butter or ghee or coconut oil, melted

1//8 to 1/4 teaspoon baking cocoa powder

1/8 teaspoon chili powder

1/8 teaspoon salt*

Stir everything together on the baking sheet and pop in the preheated oven.  Roast for 10 minutes then take the pan out and stir the seeds.  Place them back into the oven for another 10 minutes, then remove.  Cool completely and then dig in.  You may need to make a few batches of these until you get the heat that you want (or just add more spice during or at the end of roasting). I’m a wimp, so this is sufficient on the pepper scale for me.  I think more than one person might consider that the addition of a bit of ground cayenne might kick things up nicely as well….

If you don’t like chocolate (difficult to believe but I’m told it’s true for some folks), I have a lime and chili roasted pumpkin/winter squash seed recipe that you may enjoy – check it out here.

*There are metric conversion tables available here. 

RPSFPNormandeau

Enjoy!

Floral notes – October 2018.

First things, well…yeah.  Let’s smile together.  Maybe even guffaw together.  Click here to see the finalists for this year’s Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.  And then tell me which one is your favourite pic in the comments.  (I am indecisive; torn between “Have a Headache” and “Crouching Tiger, Peeking Moose”).

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Calgary cookbook author Julie Van Rosendaal’s Out of the Orchard: Recipes for Fresh Fruit from the Sunny Okanagan (2016, TouchWood Editions, Canada) is perfect for this time of year. Although the sweet, juicy B.C. peaches are finished (no worries! – I have a bunch stashed in the freezer for any and all occasions), the apples are still rolling in and on for extremely budget-friendly prices.  If you look around, you’ll still find the plums, as well, and of course, the pears are just coming on.  I seriously would like one of everything in this cookbook – I have no idea where to begin.  Weeeeellll, maybe I do.  Page 43, “Peach and Pumpkin Muffins.” Happening this week, in my kitchen.  And for supper tomorrow night: “Roasted Carrot Soup with Apples and Sage.”  Or…how about…”Curried Sweet Potato, Carrot, and Red Lentil Soup with Ginger and Pear.” That’s for Thursday night.  I’m gonna be busy….  If your bookstore or library carries this cookbook, I’d highly recommend tracking down a copy – it will quickly become a favourite!

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I meant to write about this much earlier this year but things sort of got away from me (they always do!). Alberta author Diane Mae Robinson has accomplished the impossible: she has made English grammar both accessible and adorable for children of all ages with The Dragon Grammar Book: Grammar for Kids, Dragons, and the Whole Kingdom. Using examples from her previously penned Pen Pieyu Adventures (ho boy, I’m in for it with that sentence!), this is a cute, useful, and educational book.  While the major appeal is for kids, I think it may actually serve adult ESL students as well, especially if they enjoy fantasy stories.  This is a fantastic resource (and if you want to own a copy, you can get the e-book free for your Kindle on Amazon.ca right now.  If you don’t live in Canada, I think the freebie is also offered up by Amazon in other countries, so just search for the book or the author on your respective site).

Even if you don’t garden in the United States, this is a delectable treat: the American Horticultural Society has digitally archived all of its issues of The American Gardener magazine from 1920 to 2016.  You can peruse them all here.  The opportunity to access documents like these is one of the best, most positive things about the Internet!

And, from the “Yes, I Published Another Article and Yes, You Are Stuck Hearing About It” Department, I…um…recently had another article published. Well, four more articles, actually.  We’ve got “How To: Mulch 101” and “Plants for Fall Colour” in the Fall 2018 issue of The Gardener for Canadian Climates, “Check Your Pulses” in the autumn issue of Archive, and “Wabi-Sabi Garden Design” in Herb Quarterly (Winter 2018).  This may be why I blog so irregularly and somehow forget to reply to all your wonderful comments until two months (or occasionally six) after you’ve written them and then you get the WordPress notification and you’re, like, huh? what is she talking about, anyway? – and then you do a search and realize this was thirteen blog entries ago!

Wow.  Someone is clearly in need of The Dragon Grammar Book. Or less caffeine, more sleep.  😉

Floral notes: April 2018.

If you embroider and are on the hunt for new patterns, I recently discovered that the DMC website has about a zillion five hundred or so available for free.  Download away and enjoy stitching!

My favourite recipe of this past week?  Judi’s Sweet Potato and Apple Latkes, found here.  They are the ultimate in comfort food and are a breeze to make.  I could probably eat these every day.  I’m totally not exaggerating here; they are that tasty.

It’s a few years old now (it was published in 2013), but if you haven’t already checked out Deborah Madison’s cookbook Vegetable Literacy, go grab a copy from the library pronto.  If you have a passion for cooking and gardening, you’ll delight in this breathtakingly-photographed tome.  The recipes look amazing but I can’t stop drooling at (on?) the pictures. (And this one of the reasons why we sometimes find water-damaged books at the library, lol). Take a look at the author describing her book in this video.

The Spring issue of The Gardener for Canadian Climates will be out shortly on newsstands across Canada and a couple of articles I wrote are inside: “Carrot Cousins” and ” Preventing Common Lawn Problems.”  The magazine also features the annual Plant Picks section, which I always love contributing to.  And will you get a load of that cover?  WOW.  We don’t have many print gardening magazines left in Canada, and I would encourage gardening enthusiasts to support this amazing publication if possible.

Do you have any “tidbits” you want to share this week? – favourite or new recipes, interesting links or news items you’ve come across, fascinating blog posts you or someone else have put up?  Feel free to mention them in the comments!