Gift ideas for gardeners.

I periodically write online content for Farmers’ Almanac and recently did a story that may help out with last minute shopping for the gardeners on your Christmas list (or any time of the year, really!).

One idea I should include is the valuable (and valued!) gift of time – helping someone weed their overgrown beds, turning compost, mowing the lawn, pruning a tree and so on.

Do you have anything to add?  What gardening-related gifts would you like to give or receive?  This doesn’t have to be small stuff – dream big if you like! 

 

 

 

Tuesday tidbits.

An itty-bitty Tuesday tidbits this week!  (Say that three times fast.  On second thought, don’t…just don’t).

  • On Christmas Day of last year, I heard an absolutely breathtakingly beautiful instrumental version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” on CBC Radio and after some hunting on the ‘net to find out more about the artist, it turned out he was from Didsbury, a small town here in southern Alberta. I promptly ordered Jake Peters’ CD “First Christmas: A Musical Journey,” and the musician himself sent it straightaway to me.  It is not only a musical journey, but a magical one! Peters’ website features the album in its entirety so you can enjoy it as well…and perhaps order a copy if you love it as much as I do.
  • Although I pumped out more non-fiction work than I ever have before, 2018 wasn’t the best year for me as far as my fiction-writing goals were concerned: I had exactly one story published (and only two new ones were written and are currently sitting in reading queues somewhere).  I am delighted that Canadian speculative fiction publisher Polar Borealis took on my SF work “The Heir” for their 8th issue.  If you’re interested, you can read the entire publication online here.

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A gratuitous photo of Smudge and her BFF, the printer.  
  • Waaaaaay back in March of last year, I claimed I was going to amalgamate my blogs The Door is Ajar and Flowery Prose and I did just as I said I would…well, insofar as my recent pretty much nonexistent posting schedule has allowed.  But now I’m going to separate them again! It probably seems a bit arbitrary but it comes down to content and I likely shouldn’t have made the change in the first place.  So…if you want to read my book reviews (aside from the select few I will still write here on FP), please head over to The Door is Ajar and subscribe…I’d love to see you there as well!  Thanks so much!
  • Finally, from the files of WHAT I OVERHEARD AT THE LIBRARY, PART 358:  It’s mid-afternoon; I’m working in the picture book aisles. A young boy of about five years old is announcing with bold authority to anyone who will listen, “I am Batman!” He captures the attention of another boy his age, and jumps up on the nearest chair so he towers over his new friend.  He squints down at him and points gleefully. “Sucks to be you!” he shouts.  Someone’s clearly filled with holiday spirit….  😉

Tell me something fun (or funny) or exciting or wonderful that’s going on in your life!  

 

Flowery Friday.

AFPNormandeau

Sometimes it’s really easy just to sit, with a goofy, deeply satisfied grin on one’s face, and marvel at a flower. Especially when that flower belongs to an amaryllis.

Book review: Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva.

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Samantha Silva – Mr. Dickens and His Carol (2017 Flatiron Books, New York)

Just in time for Christmas comes this heartwarming, exquisitely-told story from Samantha Silva.  A fictionalized account of Charles Dickens’ struggle to write A Christmas Carol under extreme pressure, Mr. Dickens and His Carol is just the sort of sweet holiday tale perfect for cuddling up with during an hour of two of quiet over the festive season.  (Don’t forget the hot chocolate and Bailey’s, the warm cat nestled at your feet, and the crackling fire in the hearth).  I think I smiled from the first sentence until I reluctantly closed the covers at its conclusion.  Holiday cheer in book form – who could ask for more?

*Project Gutenberg has archived a digital copy of a first edition of A Christmas Carol from December 1843. It includes some fabulous illustrations and a marvelous scan of the front cover – click over to enjoy it here.

 

Merry Christmas!  

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?

 

 

 

National Poinsettia Day.

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Apparently, it is National Poinsettia Day in the United States. I don’t have a poinsettia this year, although I love them. It’s been so cold here that transporting one from the garden centre to home might completely do it in before I even had a chance to enjoy it. Arctic air masses that lounge around for days and days on end are not fun for anyone, and especially not if you’re from the tropics, as this plant is. Which is also perhaps why it is not National Poinsettia Day here in Canada – we’ve established that temperatures in the minus mid-to-high twenties (that’s Celsius!) are not ideal for such a celebration. Really, for any celebration. Except one involving hot chocolate and Irish cream and a warm fireplace.

Even if we don’t have a special day to honour poinsettias here in the frozen north, I can still share a fascinating bit of information: did you know that the dense, multi-branching habit and stunted growth of our holiday poinsettias results from infection by a type of pathogen?  This article has more information about how it works.*  And here is another for further perusal.  Enjoy the reads – I’m off to petition the government to make National Hot Chocolate and Irish Cream and Warm Fireplace Day a reality.

Are poinsettias part of your holiday celebrations?  What colour is your favourite?  And have you ever seen a poinsettia in tree form?  (I haven’t).  

*UPDATED: I managed to track down a photo of a “wild” poinsettia, as the photo in the first link isn’t accurate – take a look here.

Holiday reads.

When I discovered libraries, it was like having Christmas every day.
Jean Fritz

I’ve worked in a library for a number of years, and it is interesting to observe the patterns of circulation. Right now, of course, it’s all about the holiday books, and it appears that a lot of our patrons gravitate toward the Christmas-themed, cozier side of the the mystery spectrum, as well as sweet, versus really hot, romance novels. (Maybe they read the hot ones in January instead?).

I got to thinking about whether or not I have a particular favourite book that I like to revisit at this time of year, or even a genre that I like to sample during the holidays. Given that I read voraciously, and always have, I was surprised to draw a blank.  Thinking back on past years, I realize that I don’t change up my reading habits to accommodate the holiday season. I keep reading anything and everything that catches my attention.

Do you bring out any special books to read during the holiday season?  Are they ones you cherish year after year?  Are they Christmas stories, or non-holiday books that seem to resonate with you more at this time of year than at any other time?  Do you prefer a certain genre over another?  Let me know what you’re reading right now – or plan to read over the holidays – perhaps I will want to check it out, as well!  (Ooh, a library pun, gotta love it).