The beautiful blue skies I've been seeing can't mask the undeniable fact that the weather is finally cooling down. Our long, hot summer is nearly over.
There's a delightful cool, refreshing feel to the early morning air. Autumn is close! Already, I can see signs. The morning glories are much slower to open, remaining tightly furled until warmed by the late morning sun.
Every creature seems to be either eating, like this fox squirrel (Sciurus niger)...
...or this spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata), or...
It's especially easy to find carpenter bees, seemingly paralyzed by the cool mornings, clinging stiffly to various blossoms. Only female carpenter bees inhabit dens. Male carpenter bees must find shelter on their own, wherever they can find it. I've found them hanging from marigold blossoms...
...clinging to stalks of phlox...
...grasping satiny morning glory petals...
...and sleeping soundly in sunflowers.
This butterfly (in the Nymphalidae family) was sleeping in the curve of this leaf before I walked by and startled it. I found other small moths and butterflies clinging to tall grasses nearby. I love watching the world wake up!
Fall means more spiderwebs in the garden.
The egg sac of a Araneus marmoreus , which resembles a small, crumbled paper bag, hangs suspended in midair.
Mother, with her beautifully marbled abdomen, waits nearby.
My Autumn Sedum is getting its first blush of pink.
The American Yew bushes have, in a few short days, gone from this...
...to this! The berries have plumped up beautifully.
The pokeberry bushes that have been growing amid my lilacs are displaying curved arcs of deep red berries. It's the perfect time for harvesting! Pokeberries are amazing plants. Many people think of them as weeds, but the seeds have to go through an arduous journey just to germinate. Birds eat them...
...and the seeds must pass through the body of the bird and drop to the ground before having a chance of germination.
I love the deep maroon color of pokeberry juice. Sometimes I use it to make ink, which is a lovely pink color that fades to a light brown over time. Some say that the Declaration of Independence was written with pokeberry ink (naysayers point to gall ink, made with rusty nails and tree gall, as the more likely candidate). Regardless, many old letters were written with pokeberry ink, and have proven its long-lasting capabilities.
I decided to make pokeberry ink this weekend. A warning, all parts of the plant are toxic, so handle with care!
First, I picked about a half pound of the ripest pokeberries I could find, and then mashed them. I mixed in a rounded tablespoon of yeast, covered the bowl, and let it sit for a day. Next, I heaped the mashed berry mixture into a strainer lined with cheesecloth, and let it drain for several hours. Easy!
Once I had extracted every bit of the juice, I discarded the remaining mush and drained the liquid into a clean glass jar.
Now I can pull out my little jar of ink whenever I want to write a letter, using my old fashioned "feather" pen. Letter writing is an art that's been lost in our modern times, but I much prefer writing a letter to composing an email.
My pokeberry ink letters lightly stain the stationary page. It makes writing a delightful experience!
I've been busy with my knitting this week, too. I unraveled the cuffs of my first toe-up socks and reknit them, this time using Jeni's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-Off. I was amazed at the difference! These socks have been successfully salvaged!
I also finished my thrummed socks. Turned inside out, you can see how warm and soft they must be to wear.
They are perfect! I hope the recipient likes them as much as I do. I'm thinking about making a pair of thrummed mittens for winter. They're perfect for our cold climate.
I also started a new project. This is Hawthorne, from Twist Collective's Fall 2010 catalog. It's a beautiful shawl that I've decided to knit with Rowan Felted Tweed in a soft sage green color. I've already finished the lace section at the bottom. Instead of continuing on in garter stitch, which the pattern calls for, I've decided to knit the top in stockinette. I'll be so excited to have a beautiful warm shawl to wear on cool autumn walks!
I've been baking more this week, too. Fall is a wonderful time for being in the kitchen. In honor of the cooling weather, I retrieved my Williams-Sonoma acorn mini muffin molds for a late afternoon treat. I have a pumpkin muffin recipe that seems too good to be true...only three ingredients! It's healthy, too. Most pumpkin recipes call for up to a cup of oil. I wanted something lighter.
These tender bites taste like a combination of pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread. They are light and delicious and I prefer them to all other muffins. The recipe is well-known in Weight Watchers circles, although its origin is unknown.
Autumn Pumpkin Muffins
One box of spice cake mix
One can of pumpkin puree
One cup of water
Mix all ingredients together. Lightly grease muffin tins and bake at 350 degrees for 15 - 20 minutes (regular muffins) or 8 - 12 minutes (mini muffins).
If you don't have spice cake mix at home, it's easy to make...a cup of sugar, 1 3/4 cup flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg.
Perfect on a cool autumn morning. Enjoy!