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

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