Saturday, December 24, 2011

Spiny Leaf Insect Eating Molted Skin

'Twas two nights before Christmas, and rather than posting wishes for Peace on Earth and the Joy of the Season, she was posting videos of her spiny leaf insect eating her molted skin....

I was fascinated to find my spiny leaf bug this morning, hanging precariously from her molted skin.  I had missed the actual molt, but soon realized that she was eating her skin (no wonder I never find any in the cage, as I do with the stick bugs).  The whole process of chewing it, as she hung from it, took probably an hour.  I took two video clips, which I would like to share.  I promise to be more seasonal in upcoming posts.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Spiny Leaf Insects Eggs !!

I had a nice surprise tonight.  My oldest spiny leaf insect, who was born in April (see post), so is just shy of 8 months old, started laying eggs tonight!  My son helped me spot 5 eggs, which I have removed to another container on a layer of moist paper towels, to await the long 9 months until they will hatch.  Here they are in my hand (aren't they pretty?) :

By the time we looked back at the mom, she had an egg showing at the end of her tail (sorry for the blurry photo) :
My son and I waited until it dropped.  Pretty exciting.  I read that she could lay as many as 100 eggs.

This is pretty good timing, since it is a bittersweet time for me and my girls.  A long time ago, I posted an ad that I would be willing to sell up to 2 of my 5 girls, and recently I've been contacted by a lady who is so excited to buy them that she will have a friend bring them by airplane for her.  He is supposed to come this weekend to pick them up, and I've had such mixed feelings about parting with any of my girls, but I know they will be going to a good home where they will be appreciated.  Now I am also glad that I will have eggs to provide hope of a new generation once my dear bugs are gone.  If I have any sense, I won't keep all the eggs, and certainly not all the offspring! 

Here are some recent photos of all my girls.  This is #1, my big 8 month old girl (now a mom!) with the regenerating front leg.  She has a wonderful weight to her, when she is held, and little spines on her belly can be felt against my skin :

This is #2, she is a bit more green than my first one :
 This is # 3 :
This is # 4 :
This is # 5, who is 3 1/2 months old now :
I am thinking to keep #1, 2 & 5, and part with #3 & #4.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

O Christmas Tree - How Lovely Are Your Branches

We had convinced ourselves (at least I had) that we would buy an artificial tree this year.  After 7 years of a near-empty living room, we had finally filled it with wonderful furniture just after Christmas last year.  So I was sure we couldn't fit our usual monster tree anymore (see our trees from 2010 and 2009 and 2008), we would need a more "slim" tree.  And part of me dreaded those first couple of weeks, when the tree would need water 3 times per day - like a new baby in the family.

I searched high and low, and there were very few options for trees in the 12' + height.  A few posts on Craigslist, and a couple of trees in retail stores.  Nothing worked out.  So this weekend, we finally gave up and decided to get a real tree one more time.  I'm so glad we did.  This is not a great photo, but look at this beauty we found:
It is a bit shy of 12' this year, but a wonderful, strong (and very prickly!!) Grand Fir, beautifully cultured by what seemed to be a very kind and friendly Christian couple, who operate a small Christmas tree farm in a residential area of Surrey, BC (which is a shorter drive than we usually make, to get our tree).  Most of their trees are more in the standard manageable size, but they had a few tall ones which they posted on Craigslist, and were only asking $32 each.  What a deal, and a gorgeous tree.  I think it has narrower profile than many of the previous trees we've had, which was ideal this year.  With some rearranging of the furniture, we managed to fit it in the room very nicely.

So far, we only have lights on it, but this is not even December yet.  It feels like we are behind in just about everything else recently, but at least we are well ahead of our usual schedule for getting a Christmas tree!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Scary Gardener and other Musings

I have to admit, I am scary when I'm gardening.  I find it amusing to read blog posts or advertisements for cute gardening boots, or pretty gloves.  No matter how much I tell myself I will only do "light" gardening, I nearly always return to the house frightfully dirty, wet, sweaty, and with twigs in my hair.  My garden gloves are all in a state of disrepair (most of them should have been thrown away long ago), wet, and dirty.  All three of my garden clippers are crippled in some form or another, and I keep going with them too.

Today I decided to take advantage of my day off work, the beautiful clear skies and balmy 8 C (46 F) weather - rain/snow is forecasted for the next few days - to "tidy up" the front yard a bit.  At first I started with pruning some wayward branches from my shrub, which would otherwise sag across the walkway once the snow weighs it down, and picking up leaves and twigs which were cluttering the garden or walkway.  But by half hour into it, I was cutting and struggling out large branches with the pruning saw.  I even started to cut a few branches which were above my head.  The last couple of times I did that, I ended up throwing my neck out of alignment, and needing a chiropractor to straighten me out.  After I cut two branches, I felt an odd feeling in my neck, so started praying and doing some neck exercises which could help.  I seem to have come out of that okay.  A bit stiff, but I think the neck is still safely in place.

Not deterred by that close call, I kept going with the pruning, and cutting out large grasses and other branches, until my large garden clippings bin was completely full.  I considered asking one of the neighbours if I could keep going and fill theirs too, but by then, my attention was turned to the driveway.  It was a great day for pressure washing the driveway and walkways.  So I fought my hose off the hose cart, and started spraying down everything in sight.  Although it is not a real pressure washer, we have one high pressure hose connection which does a pretty good job of spraying off most of the grime and certainly the sand and leaves and other debris.  I've always wanted a real pressure washer, but it's probably a good thing that I don't have one, since I've heard the horror stories about people who accidentally chop into their legs or other body parts with the pressure washer.  I'd be very likely to struggle with the hose, or get distracted, and do that to myself.  So I stick to my hose, and dream about one day hiring someone to do some real pressure washing.

I learned a few things when building our house, such as the importance of those grooves in the sidewalk and driveway, to allow the concrete to expand and contract.  So ever since then, I've been very careful to wash out those grooves a few times per year.  (Fortunately for him, my husband, who was less involved in the building of the house, is unencumbered by the need for any type of house or yard maintenance, happy to leave these matters in my capable hands.  On a good day, he's the first one to suggest going to the park or another nice place.  What does he think I'm trying to create in our own yard?)  Winter and very early spring are my favourite times, since I don't have to feel guilty about using water.  At this time of year, the water reservoir is more than full.  By summer - almost every summer now - there is crying about water shortage, and restrictions on its use.  It seems pretty funny, in a city which probably gets more rainfall than any city in North America, and which probably pays more local taxes (or any taxes, for that matter!) than any other.  Somehow, all those taxes we pay end up being squandered - I mean spent - on other activities, with not much planning on expanding the reservoirs which are now serving a population which is likely multiples of what it was when the reservoirs were built.  Anyhow, this time of year, I felt quite okay spraying good clean water down the driveway, clearing it off.  That allowed me to cool down a bit, since I had gotten myself a bit sweaty doing the garden cleanup.

When I'm deep into the driveway cleanup, having a solid line of dirt and moss and other gunk which I am systematically spraying down the drieway, I hear the phone ringing inside.  I turn off the hose, and head toward the house.  By then, my cell phone is ringing inside.  I catch neither, and notice only that it is from the office.  Most likely my husband.  So I phone him (busy), send him an Instant Message and email, and finally a voice message, asking if he is trying to contact me.  (An hour later, I hear back that yes, he was trying to call, and he answered his own question.)  By then, I have taken off my gloves, which are soaked through with cold water, but can't bear to put the cold wet gloves back.  So I decide to go with bare hands to finish the driveway and walkway.  The water is freeeeeezing cold.  Wow, I didn't know how much the cold wet gloves had helped to keep my hands warm.  But I am determined to finish, despite the cold hands.

By the time I arrive back in the house more than 2 hours later, I notice the bottom of my jeans are wet, and take them off.  By then I am shivering, sore, and otherwise feeling like I have been run over by a small car.  If I had been successful in borrowing a yard waste bin from my neighbours, I would have felt like I had been run over by a truck, which is the state I usually find myself in after being in the garden for a few hours.

It's funny, when I am in the garden, the cold or pain or anything other sensation is only a minor distraction or amusement to me.  I am so focussed on the task at hand that I lose myself quite completely.  I am not in the least bit lady like.  In fact, I don't feel much of a female at all, and hardly even human for that matter.  I am just determined, fighting, struggling, making progress one handful at a time.  I must be a pretty entertaining sight, if any neighbours were to notice me.  Not to mention that my standard gardening gear consists of my Victoria's Secret tank-style bra top with lace back, and a cut-off (yes, the real thing) pair of jeans.  Pretty scary sight, at my age and size, come to think of it.  In the winter, I add a T-shirt on top, and wear full length jeans.  But no matter what I wear, I almost always need to change, and often take a shower too, when I return.  But I wouldn't change it for a moment.  I love the challenging terrain (more on that in other posts) and the feeling of losing myself completely, to where I can only keep struggling away, musing about various things while I work.  But not thinking of what else there is to do - my TO DO list keeps growing longer and longer, despite how many items I finish and cross off.  There is no energy to spare for that.   Just the musings.  That's one of the things I love about gardening.

Happy late-season garden cleanup, everyone!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cranberry Sauce Muffins

I love cranberry sauce, so when I prepared the turkey dinner last weekend (Canadian Thanksgiving), I made sure I had plenty of it.  But after using all the turkey leftovers, I still have more cranberry sauce than I can eat myself.  So I went on a search for a recipe for muffins using the leftover cranberry sauce.
Cranberry Sauce Muffins

I found one called "Morning-After Cranberry Sauce Muffins", which uses 1 1/2 c leftover cranberry sauce.

I also found one for "Cranberry Muffins", which uses 1 1/2 c chopped cranberries, but many of the commenters had substituted dried cranberries or even cranberry sauce, with appropriate adjustments to other ingredients.

So I set out to make my own variant, based on these two, and am pleased with the outcome, as were the kids, who ate them as they came fresh out of the oven.  The muffins are very moist, and the cranberries in the sauce provide a wonderful freshness to the taste.  My only adjustment would be to the spices.
Cranberry sauce muffins before baking

1 1/2 c flour
1 c quick oats
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg (I'd reduce to 1 tsp next time)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger (I'd skip next time)

1/2 c butter
1/2 c brown sugar

2 eggs
2 c cranberry sauce (see my notes below)
1 tsp vanilla


TASTE, TO ADJUST.  I added 2 Tbsp sugar at this point, to make it sweeter.  You could also adjust for moisture level, if too dry (add water or orange juice), or wet (add a bit more flour).

I used mini-muffin tins, which make 20 mini muffins each.  I think the 20 mini muffins are roughly equivalent to 12 regular sized muffins, but I'm not certain.  I ended up with 2 trays of mini muffins, and 5 regular size.


BAKE AT 350 F until done.  Approx 15 min for the mini muffins, 25 min for the regular size.

My cranberry sauce was made from fresh cranberries, with my sister's variation on the basic recipe :
3 c (340 g) package of fresh cranberries
1 c orange juice (instead of water)
3/4 c sugar (instead of 1 c)
Cook on stove, boiling for about 5 - 10 min.  Let cool.

I made double this recipe, and guess that we ate roughly half.  I ended up with 2 cups of the sauce.  So I'm guessing a single package would be about right.  If not, I'd adjust the flour more or less accordingly.

Having eaten the muffins both warm (amazing!) and cool, the adjustment I would make is to reduce the nutmeg to 1 tsp, and skip the ginger powder entirely.  With the natural tanginess of the cranberries, the spices seemed a bit unnecessary, and gave the muffins a somewhat artificial taste (and it doesn't help that my spices are too old - I really should dump them and refresh them all!).

Let me know if I inspire you to try this recipe or a variant on it, and please share with us what you discover!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Grape Harvest

This year's grape harvest was a pretty good one.  For some reason, last year's was a big disappointment.  But I was pleased with the harvest this year.  I asked my daughter to take a photo of me, with my basket of grapes :
Grape harvest
These are wonderful grapes of an unknown variety, but they have seeds and are a bit too sour for easy eating.  So I only reserved two clumps (for now - I may yet juice them), and promptly converted the batch into 5 jars of grape/apple juice (I added in the remaining apples from my espalier tree, the ones not already snatched by the squirrels).

I didn't take too many photos, since I already have photos & posts from 2 years ago...

... about my grape harvest then, which appears was even larger than this year's : 2009 Grape Harvest.

... about the 3 varieties of grapes : 2009 Photos of Grape Varieties

... and about my new juicer, which is like a reliable friend to me (I've made 3 different batches of juice in the past 3 weeks) : My Stainless Steel Juicer

Based on my experience these past 3 years, that the red variety of grape bears only a couple of bunches (this year, only 1 pitiful bunch smaller than my fist), which rot on the vine, I think I will cut down this vine entirely, and make room for another variety of table grape.  My mother-in-law has a table grape which bore fruit for the first time this year, and if I like the flavour (I haven't tasted it yet), I will ask her for a cutting.  I have a neighbour also who has wonderful sweet table grapes, who could provide a cutting.

The other variety of green grape which I do have, that is seedless and quite delicious (although a bit tart) also bears very few bunches.  This year, only 3.  But I will give it another chance.

My espalier apple tree bore a large abundance of apples again this year, at least the top and bottom varieties.  Again, the middle row didn't bear any apples.  The apple tree in the yard didn't bear any apples.  Nor did the pear tree, for that matter.  Disappointing.  But perhaps since I pruned the apple tree back a bit, it may respond with fruit again next year.

My espalier asian pear bore wonderful fruit on all 3 rows, and if it weren't supported, I'm sure the branches would have broken under the weight of the fruit.  See photos from 2009 of my espaliered apple and asian pear fruits.

My relatively new espalier european pear tree bore 2 fruits, which I believe were the red bartlett pears.  The first one, I picked while still a bit firm, let it ripen inside, and enjoyed with the family.  The second one I left to ripen a bit longer on the tree, but I see that the squirrels must have enjoyed that one.

PS. Oct 11 - It's funny how taste is so subjective.  My mother-in-law brought me a sample of her wonderful, sweet green table grapes to try, and they tasted almost identical to mine!  Hers are labelled Niagara Table grapes, and bear the description "Large bunches of tasty, green fruit used for wine, desserts and juices".  So I guess I may have one of the sweeter varieties available.  Likely the best I will get, for our cool wet climate on the west coast.  I dream of the yellow-with-pink-blush Muscat grapes I only once ever found in a grocery store, and the tiny green (almost yellow) Champagne grapes which I found in a local produce store for the first time this year.  But I'm sure neither of these would ripen here.  I remember when I was a kid, my mom had grapes growing on the side of the garage, but they never ripened enough to be edible.  So I guess I should be happy with mine which make great juice, and are edible for those who like a real zippy flavour.  I will, however, remove the red one which is taking space and sunshine and not successful at all.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Stick Bug Jealousy

Walking stick bugs
In the three years which I have been keeping walking stick insects, I have not noticed any displays of emotion.  In fact, they hardly seem to move - or eat, for that matter.  They don't seem to seek out or mind the attention of other stick bugs.  If one walks on top of another, neither one seems to pay any attention.  With the exception of the adult males, who do manage to seek out and mate with the females.

Last week my daughter brought her small cage of stick bugs to display to the whole school, so the night before, I cleaned out the cage for her, and set up fresh blackberry leaves.  We were a bit concerned to see a male and female joined together, since this sort of thing would raise unnecessary questions from the younger kids.  As I removed the lid which they were clinging to, a second male approached from behind and climbed onto the first (successful) male's back.  I figured it was just because I had disturbed them, and expected them to soon settle.  Instead, I saw something I didn't expect.  The second male appeared to bite the first male on the leg.  The first male recoiled slightly, which confirmed to me that it was actually a bite which I had witnessed.  Then he bit again.

Normally, I would have gone for my Blackberry, to be ready to record in case it happened again.  But it was late at night (which always seems to be the case when I am cleaning their cages), and I wanted to get done before I got too tired.  So I never did see whether the biting continued.  But when I returned the lid a few minutes later, it appeared that the first male was still in position with the female, and the second male was still waiting nearby, perhaps jealously.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Reifel Bird Sanctuary

Yesterday the family went for a drive and walked around the Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Ladner, BC.  As always, there were lots of different species of birds to look at, and to amuse myself, I took a few photos.

One of my favourites is always the black-capped chickadee:
There were a noticeable number of red-winged blackbirds yesterday :
We heard the tapping of this woodpecker before we spotted him:
This looks like a song sparrow, but it was too busy eating seeds to sing for us :
The mallards were there in the usual abundance :
I was amused by the great number of shore birds.  I know there were at least a few different species there, but to me they were all "sandpipers".  It was amusing to us that there was such a wide expanse of shallow water, that it gave the illusion that they were all walking on the water.
Here's a closer look :
This photo appears comical to me.  This little guy was stretching and flapping his wings, and looks a bit off-balance :
I kept noticing bushes with vibrant red berries along the road as we were driving, so I was glad there was one along the edge of the parking lot, so I could identify them as hawthorn berries :
Our walk in the Reifel Bird Sanctuary was peaceful (other than the kids goofing around and chasing each other).  The drive was also pleasant, past many farms and a few fields of bright orange pumpkins.  We were passed by a huge tractor/truck full of potatoes.  I somehow wasn't expecting to see potato farmers just 1/2 hour out of Vancouver proper!

I am trying to find my snow geese photos from a previous year.  That was quite a sight.  It must have been some time in November, since we remember the fields with some remaining pumpkins rotting on the ground.  We'll have to remember to make another trip out there soon.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Garden Glimpses - Early October 2011

I have not posted many garden photos this year, but that doesn't mean I haven't been busy in the garden, nor that I haven't added to my plant collection.  I wish I had taken more "before" and "after" photos of the garden beside the front driveway, but I am pleased with the progress I made in cleaning it up, and the new additions, mostly from Phoenix Perennials in Richmond, BC.  Here are just a few of them, which are blooming now.

This rosy beauty is Echinacea "Raspberry Truffle" :
Echinacea 'Raspberry Truffle'
This cheery yellow beauty is Echinacea "Now Cheesier".  I love coneflowers for their bold blooms, and strong stems which usually don't need any support :
Echinacea 'Now Cheesier'
This is a Schizostylis coccinea (Pink river lily).  This dramatic late-bloomer caught my attention last year at the UBC apple festival (which, by the way, is Oct 15 & 16 this year).  I bought a pink one, but I think I'll go back and buy a bright red one also :
Pink river lily (Schizostylis coccinea)
I wish I had taken more photos of the other additions.  I'll try again next summer.

The back yard is not without its colourful blooms, also.  Most notably are the gigantic sunflowers outside my kitchen window, which the squirrels have not raided yet (although I'm sure by now they've figured out my work schedule, so know when the opportune time will be) :
Sunflower giganteus
I made this yellow / purple arrangement from some of the available blooms a couple of weeks ago :
Purple / yellow garden flower arrangement

Friday, September 23, 2011

Spiny Leaf Insects Munching Leaves

If you're not already tired of my photos of the spiny leaf insects, here is a video I recorded on my Blackberry this evening:

If I were clever, I would figure out how to add music to the clip, but it's too late at night for such a challenge.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Garden Treats

This is a wonderful time of year, when the golden "Fall Gold" raspberries produce their second crop, with even larger and sweeter berries than the summer's crop.  The espalier apples and asian pears are starting to become ripe, and even some grapes are ready to pick.  Today I was able to bring in this harvest :
I washed and prepared them, and called the family to sample:
Look at the size of those raspberries :
My absence of posts this summer have not been indicative of the time spent in the garden.  I have been fortunate to have spent quite a bit of time in the garden this year, although never as much as I would like.  During the week I work, and even with taking Fridays off this year, I have spent most of my Fridays doing laundry, tidying and cleaning, attending to various errands and medical appointments and such.  So most of my gardening has been in the evenings (while the days were longer) or weekends.

Today I spent 3 hours tackling my hillside, which is difficult terrain, and full of challenges :  
This summer I started to climb the hillside to remove some blackberry vines which were shooting up from above my Gunnera (top right), very high on that hill.  On my first attempt, I discovered that the wasps had a nest in the ground, and was fortunate to escape (I didn't know I could run that fast!) with only one sting.  I have tried 3 times to eliminate them with wasp killer, and this last time, I finally was successful.  (I probably would have left them alone if I had any other way to approach that hillside, but it is getting too difficult to come from above.)  So today I climbed up, but after removing about 4 wheelbarrows full of weeds and plant material, I still hadn't climbed all the way up to remove all the blackberry vines.  So that will need to be another day.

This year was the first year I planted my giant sunflowers in the small "kitchen" / herb garden outside my kitchen window.  So it has been fun to watch them grow.  Although all their bright cheery faces are pointed in the other direction, I only see their backs from the window.
I think I will do that again.  There is good sun in that location, and I like the result.

I hope you are all enjoying your gardens, the fruits and veggies and flowers, the fall colours, the tidying up and preparing for winter.  It never ends, but that is what makes gardening such a wonderful pastime.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Taking Time to Take Photos

Time flies by so quickly, sometimes the only way to make it stop, for a moment, is to take some photos to remember it by.  My daughter just started Grade 7 (oh my, how did that happen?), and one of her school projects is to make a poster all about her.

She has no shortage of interests and activities and topics to cover.  Her pet rats, her interests in music (flute currently) and photography, her belly dancing, her toys, her faith (she will display her new parallel NIV / The Message bible which I gave her as a first day of school gift), her new ATV (wow, she has her very own one, and has already put 200 km on it).  Not even mentioning her previous experiences in singing, piano, guitar, TaeKwonDo, her hamster, and math awards.  (I guess you can tell, I'm very proud of her.)

First of all, she decorated her poster board, with black paint, fluorescent spray paint, and splattering of neon and glow-in-the-dark colours:
Now she will add photos of her rats, Sammy :
...Jenny :
...Bear :
...and Archie :
And some photos of her riding her new ATV the week before school started :
She will also add some photographs she made this summer which were pretty funky, giving a fresh perspective to some very ordinary objects :
When you look at that second photo, do you see the lock protruding out, or recessed in?  It is a bit of an optical illusion.

Yes, time is surely flying by, ever more quickly, but for just a moment today, it stopped and allowed us to reflect on what is fun and meaningful to us.

PS. Sunday Sept 18 : It didn't seem right that we didn't get a photo of Jenny in the tissue box, so we tried again today, and got a cute photo of her in the box :

Monday, September 05, 2011

Spiny Leaf Bug Regrowing Her Leg

I am still enjoying my spiny leaf insects, my oldest being now almost 5 months old.  Recently she lost a front leg while molting, and I have been hoping that she will regrow it.  Spiny leaf bugs, like stick bugs, have the ability to regenerate missing limbs.  Pretty cool.

Anyhow, after arriving home from a one week vacation, I was very pleased to see that she is regrowing the leg.  See it in the photo below, it is still much smaller than the other legs, but through successive molts, it should get longer.  Way cool.  You go girl!
Spiny leaf bug regenerating leg
I was also pleased to find that I now have a new hatchling too, my 5th leaf bug now.  I am getting quite a collection.

For any of you who follow my blog for my garden, I apologize that I have not shared much of my garden lately. Happily, I have been able to spend quite a bit of time there, and have made significant progress re-working sections of it, but have not been taking my camera with me often enough, and often it is too dark by the time I remember.  I'll try to take it with me and share photos in the upcoming weeks.

There are signs of fall already, with changes in leaf colours starting a few weeks ago. I am doing lots of clean up already. I even got my act together this year, and harvested much of my lavender. Tonight I cut down many of my globe thistle flowers, and will dry and hope to use them for a dried flower arrangement. They look like something out of a Dr. Seuss story.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tropical Salsa 2

I have been so happy with my first batch of salsa, that I decided to make another.  I was fortunate that my mom accepted my invitation to come over and join me preparing it.  That way, we enjoyed chatting while working, and the preparation time was greatly reduced, with four hands doing the chopping.

This time, my daughter suggested that I use more tomatoes.  So I did.  So it was still a tropical salsa, but not quite as sweet or fruity as the first batch.  The following is my approximate recipe.

Finely chop and mix all ingredients in a large saucepan:

  • 5 nectarines (if you blanch them in boiling water for 1 minute, the skins pull off easily)
  • 1 mango
  • 1 medium onions
  • 7 jalapeno peppers, seeds removed
  • 1 large red, 2 small yellow bell peppers
  • 8 tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 c white vinegar
  • 1 cap of Realemon juice
Chop 1 bunch of cilantro, but set it aside.

Clean and prepare canning jars in boiling water.

Heat the saucepan, stirring occasionally, until it comes to a boil. Boil for about 5 minutes, adding cilantro toward the end, and sampling for any additional ingredients you may want to add. Good time to adjust sugar or salt levels, or be inspired to add spices.  This time I was both enjoying the conversation and so excited about making more salsa, that I actually forgot to sample the salsa before putting it in jars.  If I had sampled, I probably would have added 1/2c to 1c of sugar, and/or a bit of salt, or more lemon juice.

Spoon salsa into the prepared (boiled) jar, leaving 1/4 inch air space at top. Seal.

Process jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

My recipe again made 7 jars, approx 500 ml or 1/2 quart each.

Over all, this second batch was more hot (maybe a medium/hot, compared to a mild/medium on the first batch).  But it was also a bit bland in comparison.  I think it was the pineapple in the first batch which made it more flavourful.  And the colours were still pretty, but the first batch had crisper yellows and reds.  I think it was the tomatoes that made the slightly more subdued or murky look. See photo - the first batch is on the left, the second on the right.
Tropical salsas

Comparing the two batches, I love them both.  But if I made another, it would be based on the first batch, with no sugar, and possibly with introducing the lime zest which the original recipe suggested.  In terms of heat, either one is fine, but perhaps I'd go with the jalapeno peppers, which seem to be a bit hotter than the serrano peppers.  By the way, this time I used the knife to remove the seeds, and used a glove in the hand which was holding the peppers.  So I didn't end up with capsicum burn like I did last time!

Stay tuned.  I have a feeling this is not the end of my salsa making.  Please let me know if you attempt a batch of salsa, and what you discover.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Best Jar of Fruit Salsa I've Ever Eaten

...and it's one I made myself last night!!

Recently I got the idea of canning my own salsa.  It may have something to do with my buying a (rather pricey) jar of "Aji" (which to me is the base for a salsa, if I added more tomatoes, and I've been adding to sandwiches and all sorts of things) at a local Farmer's Market, knowing that I could pretty easily make something like that myself.

Also, I used to be able to buy a really good peach (or mango?) salsa, but it seems to have disappeared out of the stores I shop in.  I can't remember the brand, but it had a hummingbird on the lid.  I still have lots of the empty jars, since they are a great size for canning.

Anyhow, I enjoy occasionally making a fresh salsa.  But this time I searched online for a recipe for a salsa which I could put in jars.  I found this one, which became the main inspiration for my own recipe, along with cross-checking the ingredients on my jar of "Aji" and other store bought salsas in my pantry.

I didn't measure anything precisely, since it is easy to adjust by eye & taste to your liking, so that is the approach I'd recommend also.  Here goes with my version:

Finely chop & mix all ingredients in a large saucepan:

  • 7 peaches / nectarines (if you blanch them in boiling water for 1 minute, the skins pull off easily)
  • 1 pineapple (remove the core & skin & spiny bits)
  • 1 mango
  • 1 large white onion
  • 8 serrano peppers, seeds removed (ouch, I didn't wear gloves - I will next time!)
  • 1 red, 2 orange bell peppers
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 c white vinegar
  • 1 c sugar or to taste (I think I'd omit it entirely next time)
  • 1 cap of Realemon juice
  • pinch salt
Chop 1 bunch of cilantro, but set it aside.

Clean and prepare canning jars in boiling water (my large pan fits 2 at a time, so I swap in the remaining jars one by one as I remove each jar to be filled).

Heat the saucepan, stirring occasionally, until it comes to a boil.  Boil for about 5 minutes, adding cilantro toward the end, and sampling for any additional ingredients you may want to add.  Good time to adjust sugar or salt levels, or be inspired to add spices.

Spoon salsa into the prepared (boiled) jar, leaving 1/4 inch air space at top.  Seal.

Process jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

My recipe made 7 jars, approx 500 ml or 1/2 quart each.

I already ate 2/3 of a jar today, with tortilla chips.  The "heat" is about a medium, although when I tasted it before it went into the hot water bath (so the flavours had not mixed and mellowed yet), the peppers tasted much hotter.  I'm pretty happy with the result.

A little note about the serrano peppers.  A few days previously, I had cut up a few to make a fresh mango salsa and fresh tomato salsa.  I had not worn gloves (as I've only heard, but never done), but I had cut them in half and used the knife to remove the seeds, before chopping.  So last night, I got careless, thinking that it was okay to use my fingers to pull out the seeds.  It seemed more efficient, and anyhow I enjoy getting my hands into things and getting messy.  I didn't feel anything until completely finishing the salsa, at which time I noticed my one finger and thumb were completely on fire.  I searched for "capsicum burn" and read all sorts of remedies, which I tried : dipping hands in milk, adding oil & then washing thoroughly with soap, vinegar, isopropynol alcohol, repeated washing with dishwashing soap...  I stopped short of the suggestion of using full-strength bleach.  Nothing helped, other than providing momentary relief.  But I went to bed expecting to be fine in the morning.  Which seemed true, until I started getting dressed, and touching things.  At which point, my fingers were on fire again (although not quite as much).  As I type now (almost 20 hours later!!) I can still feel a funny sensation in those fingers.  So although I will probably still not wear gloves next time, I will be sure to handle the peppers more carefully, and not touch any seeds with my fingers!!

Please let me know if you are inspired to make this salsa, or some variation on it, and let me how it turns out.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Another Spiny Leaf Bug

I apologize to those who follow my blog for photos of my garden.  Tonight I noticed another spiny leaf bug had hatched.  I now have 2 spiny leaf insects.  The oldest is 9 weeks old now, and is looking more like a curled up leaf every day:
I tried to be clever and get a photo with them both on my hand, which I did:

But the newly hatched bug moves very quickly, and after this photo, it promptly disappeared up my sleeve.  At which point I put the older bug back in her cage, and ended up taking off my shirt to search for the little one.  Fortunately, I found her without squishing her.

On the stick bug side, I still have way too many, and keep telling myself I will try to find a home for many of them.  I managed to give away 4 to good homes last weekend.  Good thing I have a plentiful supply of blackberry leaves in the neighbourhood.
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