Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Cat's Meow

Late October in Indiana means many things...cool days and chilly nights, pumpkin patches, apple cider, falling leaves, and frantic squirrels. It's also the perfect time of year to make the trek to Brown County State Park. Brown County is in the southern part of the state, featuring 16,000 acres of gently rolling hills. It's home to many different types of trees and lots of interesting wildlife, from white-tailed deer to wild turkeys. Black bears once roamed these woods, but the main attraction now is the beautiful fall colors.

When we visited last week, we were gratified to see that most trees hadn't dropped their leaves yet. The colors were amazing, ranging from deep red...

...to creamy gold.

A pleasant walk around Ogle Lake.

The trees themselves are sometimes overshadowed by their brilliant covers, but shouldn't be. I love to see the different types of bark in the fall, like the peeling bark of this sycamore tree.

Near the end of our visit, we found a quiet clearing to explore. It was like being in a fairy ring, surrounded by young trees whose leaves tossed and whispered in the wind and whose limbs seemed to playfully grasp the limb of its neighbor, like children playing Ring Around the Rosy.

We found lots of acorns...


...interesting old logs...

...and even an abandoned bird nest or two.

We collected lots of beautiful leaves for pressing.

Our last stop was an old stone shelter that held a wooden table, where Todd had carved our names several years ago.

It was a good trip.

We've had some excitement at home, too. My friend Michelle's cat, Cookie, has misbehaved. She snuck outside before her spaying appointment and, well...

...now she's the proud mother of five little kittens. I visited the small family when they were about a week and a half old. At that age, they were either eating...


...or sleeping.

Young kittens are champion sleepers.

They can...and do...sleep up to 20 hours per day.

They love to be warm, so if the mother isn't available, the kittens snuggle together...and sleep some more.

By the third week, though, their eyes are open...mostly.

All kittens have blue eyes at first. The true color doesn't emerge until the third month.

They are wobbling around in their nest and beginning to play together.

Their cries for Mom are a lot louder!

This little guy's baby teeth are just beginning to come in.

Oh, yes, and they're still eating...a lot!

As the weather cools, I've been thinking about knitting some mittens and a hat for winter. I chose a basic, vintage design for the mittens. My only modification was to kitchener the tops of the mittens closed. I think it makes a tidier tip.

Of course, I used my Malabrigo yarn...my new favorite.

I originally chose the pattern Coline for my hat, but the designer was so incredibly rude when I forwarded a quick question about the crown decreases that I decided to go with another pattern. Now I'm working on Caulfield, an intricately-cabled design I hope to finish by next week.

Yesterday, I made pumpkin puree. I used to buy canned pumpkin puree at the grocery store until I realized how easy (and cheap!) it is to make your own...and healthier, I think. Canned puree is tan, but the puree I make is a lovely orange color, as it should be.

I purchased two "pie pumpkins," which are smaller than jack-o-lantern pumpkins. After splitting them in half and removing the seeds, I roasted them in a greased pan at 325 degrees for a little over an hour.

You'll know when they're done. The insides will be soft and the rind will peel away easily. I use an ice cream scoop to transfer the fleshy insides to the food processor.

I puree for about five minutes to get a nice, thick consistency. The two small pie pumpkins I used yielded ten cups of pumpkin puree!

They went straight to the freezer, where they'll be used for pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin scones, pumpkin pudding, and whatever else I can think of.

Going to Brown County and making pumpkin puree are some of my favorite fall traditions.

Have a great week!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

At Last...Fall.

I could see my breath when I went outside this morning. The air was delightfully crisp, and I'm so happy that the weather in general has finally aligned with the calendar. It's October, and fall is here!

Evidence is everywhere. Squirrels are busily carrying acorns and patching up nests. Squirrels can smell the saliva they leave on nuts, even through snow and soil, which is how they're able to dig up their treasures when needed.

Birds are busy, too. They've nearly stripped my pokeberry bush...

...but leave evidence that many more pokeberry bushes will grow in the spring.

I find lots of feathers around...birds are either shoring up old nests or shedding feathers during their daily rough-and-tumble routines.

There's not as much life in the garden lately. As our temperatures dip into the 30s at night, most carpenter bees have begun their hibernation, although I still see one or two anemically clinging to spent blossoms.

I still see a few moths, huddled amid the pine needles...

...but I haven't seen a butterfly in a while. Sometimes, though, I'll come across an old chrysalis, like this one, belonging to a monarch butterfly.

Snails still hide under rocks, but soon they'll bury themselves in the soil. They secrete a type of lime that seals off the opening of their shells, and they hibernate until spring. Believe it or not, a snail can live up to five years!

I see lots of mysterious nests in the fall. This could be the nest of a jumping spider.

Insects and spiders utilize leaves, too...any small place where they can spin webbing and be sheltered and safe from predators and poor weather.

Everything has gone to seed. This zinnia, with its conical center, still provides nibbles for birds. I won't take the spent plants down for at least another month.

I love tree seeds, and frequently bring them home to arrange in pretty glass dishes. It's not a very common way to decorate ("Do you think you could have a few less seeds out?" my realtor asked nervously), but I love it.

This sweetgum seed pod has several protrusions that remind me of long, grasping bird beaks; gnarled, like the type of bird a witch might have for a pet.

Of course, I always have lots of acorns. One day, when I'm more organized, I'm going to make big acorn wreaths, but right now I have to settle for little dishes of them. Once, a squirrel got into the house, somehow slipping down the chimney and forcing itself through a small grill at the bottom of the furnace. I think he felt right at home in my house, because he had plenty of acorns to nibble on during his captivity! He certainly depleted my stash in no time.

I love these maple "helicopters." The thin, dry tops are delicately veined...

...yet they're able to catch the wind and, carrying the seed along, twist and flutter their way to an opportune spot.

I've seen some interesting transformations lately. I always like to watch for these progressive changes. Here, a morning glory bud, still green, prepares for seed.

Just a couple of weeks later, the seed head is dry, and the leaves pull back to reveal a paper-thin seed covering.

Next, the covering splits, revealing the inky seeds within. As more sections peel off and waft away, more seeds are exposed, and can drop easily to the ground.

Finally, all seeds are gone, and the seed pod opens up to reveal all. I like the rice paper-thin slivers that at one time divided up the seed chambers.

Not all is lost, though. Just as my sedums have finished flowering, my mums start to stir. In the span of a week, they open. On Monday, I have the tightly-furled buds...

...but on Friday, some color is seen...

...and by Monday, the petals open to reveal their creamy yellow centers. Mums are great for fall color and, of course, they're perennials, so you'll get a bigger and more colorful display every year!

The sap is starting to flow from some trees. Trees sap in the fall and spring through a complicated process involving internal pressures reacting to the external environment.

Fall berries are ripening, much to the delight of the local birds...

And, of course, the leaves are beginning to turn.

I have great memories of raking up - and then jumping into - great piles of fall leaves. I love the way they look, I love the way they smell, and I love the way they crunch when you walk on them.

These oak leaves are just beginning to turn...

...and so is this maple tree.

However, some trees have completely changed color, like this maple, which is a lovely shade of gold.
This maple tree's leaves have all turned to a brilliant orange color.

In the spirit of the season, I knit a quick owl for my new nephew's Christmas.

And, fall baking has begun as well. I decided to make a pie, which I almost never make. The flavor? A rather unfall-like lemon meringue.

My KitchenAid mixer whipped the egg whites into meringue in no time, and they waited patiently for me to finish cooking the rich, custard-like lemon to sweet perfection. I poured the mixture into my pie shell and spooned the meringue on top.

I had just enough to make a nice, thick covering. It's important to bring your meringue all the way out to the edges of your pie, covering the fluted edges of your pie shell, or you might get a thin, watery layer between your meringue and your pie.

It was perfect!

Now that the weather is cooler, we'll be curling up in our flannels, bent over board games with steaming cups of cocoa at our sides. It's no wonder that fall is my favorite season.

Enjoy your fall days!