Sunday, October 31, 2010

Trick or Treat, Give me Something Good to Eat

Great Horned Owl
Ecomuseum, Mtl, Qc, CA

Just a quick note to let you know that the next post will be on Thursday, November 4th. I'm taking a couple days off to play tourist in NYC with my friend. 

Don't eat too much candy!

Take care!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Down in the Meadow

Wolfman and I watched this fabulous Western Marilyn Monroe Movie called The River of No Return (1954).  In it, Marilyn is a saloon singer that gets swept up in a crazy prospecting adventure. During her adventure, she meets a young boy to whom she sings this wonderful song, Down in the Meadow- a song all about the seasons. I fell in love.  If you can play the guitar, you can find the cords at In the meantime, I've posted the lyrics and a video clip from the movie. Enjoy!

When Mr South Wind sighs in the pines,
old Mr Winter whimpers and whines.
Down in the meadow, under the snow,
April is teaching green things to grow.

When Mr West Wind howls in a glade,
old Mr Summer nods in the shade.
Down in the meadow, deep in the brook,
catfish are waiting for the hook.

Old Lady Blackbird flirts with the scarecrow,
scarecrow is waving at the moon.
Old Mr Moon makes hearts everywhere go bump, bump,
with the magic of June.

When Mr East Wind shouts over head,
then all the leaves turn yellow and red.
Down in the meadow corn stocks are high
pumpkins are ripe and ready for pie.

When Mr North Wind rolls on the breeze,
old father Christmas trims over trees.
Down in the meadow snow shoftly gleams
earth goes to sleep and smiles in her dreams.

Take care!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Book of Saturnus

Saturnus vulgaris, The European Starling.

Originally from Europe, this species was introduced to North America in a very special way. Their introduction can be pinpointed not only to a year but also to a person, Eugene Schieffelin. Mr. Schieffelin, a 5th Ave Resident in the late 19th century, reportedly thought "it would be nice to have all the birds mentioned by Shakespeare available for viewing in the park outside his window". So between 1890 and 1891, he had a total of 100 starlings shipped over from Europe. This small population exploded and within half a century, it went from 100 to to than 200 million in the United States. From New York, they have spread all across North-America. Thank you Mr. Schieffelin, now everyone can see the Shakespearean pests from their window whether they like it or not.

Starlings are an aggressive invasive species. They are cavity nesters and will bully their way in. Marie Winn, author of Red-Tails in Love and other great books and articles, tells of one such bullying episodes. The Northern Flicker, a large brownish woodpecker, painstakingly excavates its nest in tree trunks. Mrs. Winn and her fellow Central Park birdwatchers have observed this behavior and also the stalking Starlings, that sit and wait for the nest to be large enough before charging the flickers and laying their eggs in the freshly excavated nesting cavity, leaving the flickers to start again. It's not only the Flickers that suffer from the starlings self entitlement. All native cavity nesting birds must compete with the brutish starlings.

Enough with the accusing, let's get to know them a little better.

Member of the Order of Passeriformes, the European Starling is the type species of its genus Sturnus (meaning its the representative, the species you compare all Sturnus to). During breeding season (spring), its plumage is iridescent black with hints of green and plum, its bill is yellow. In the fall, feathers are tipped with white giving a speckled appearance and the bill is now darker, brownish. The juvenile birds are grey-brown, with a brown bill.

They are ground feeders with a particular technique called open-bill probing in which they prying into the ground by inserting and opening their bill to search for hidden food.

Outside nesting season, they can be seen in large flocks, to say the least. Watch this video (beware of motion sickness).

Take care!


1. Winn, Marie. Red-tails in Love: a Wildlife Drama in Central Park. New York: Random House, 1998
2. European Starling. Field Guide to the Birds of North America -4th Edition. Washington : National Geographic, 2002
3.  European Starling. Wikipedia. Oct.23rd 2010. [Accessed online] Oct.25th 2010.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

1 Year Anniversary

Purple Carrots and Fairy Smoke is now  
one year old!!

To celebrate, I picked up two delicious cupcakes from Crumbs bakery (Grasshopper and Raspberry Swirl) on my way home from yoga.
Wolfman and I eat these cupcakes in honor of this little blog and to thank all the readers out there that follow, comment or just pass by from time-to-time. I appreciate your readership and look forward to the years to come.

(I was planning a majestic post to commemorate this event and thinking up something new to celebrate but I got sick, horrible, I'll spare you the details.)

With a less Pump and Circumstance than planned, I would like to introduce you to the newest member of the NYC Wolf family and the figure head of my new project: I dub thee
Mr. Oregano Taterpot.

This adorable creature is in fact a brilliant creation from Japan - an easy-to-grow oregano starter kit with a potato-shaped pot with a face and legs! What's not to love?

You can find the entire collection here. I didn't buy it online though so I can't vouch for their service. I randomly came across it in a Upper West Side spoiled children toy store; you know the kind that offer toys for kids that already have everything. I digress.

Lately, I have been bombarded with information about Optimum Nutrition and began reading up (and watching multiple documentaries) about the importance of nutrition for your health. Even Hippocrates said: " Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine your food.". For that reason, but not that reason alone, I have decided to start growing some fresh greens at home, to have them readily available in depth of winter. Mr. Taterpot is an adorable gimmick but a gimmick non the less. I will also be planting regular pots with other herbs and vegetables. In a month from now, I will post a compilation video of the whole adventure and give you feedback on my experience of urban farming.

Until then, expect the regular, irregular, posts about being green, cooking, and the natural world.

Thank you and

Take care!

Monday, October 18, 2010

{Being Green} Reusing Plastic Bottles

Good Morning and welcome to Monday,

Let's start this week off right with a new Green Scheme. This week's concept comes to you courtesy of my Inbox and my Mother who lovingly sent me this viral email.

Although I don't often have plastic bottles available (I try not to buy them), I liked the idea and thought I should share it through another medium.  It could come in handy for my peas and beans I buy per pound from the Health Food Store and who knows what creative ways a fresh Monday Morning Brain can come up with. Right? Okay.

The Concept: Use the top of a bottle to seal the common plastic bag.

What you need: A plastic bottle, scissors, a plastic bag (sandwich bag or bulk produce bag)

How to: 1. Empty and clean the plastic bottle.  With the scissors, carefully cut off the top of the bottle leaving about an inch of the neck bellow the cap.

2. Remove the cap. Insert the bag through the top of the bottle (from the bottom) and screw the top back into place. You now have a bag that is air-tight and easier to pour once you master the technique of holding the bottle.

If you decide to take this idea for a whorl, let me know how well it worked and what you used it for. I'm curious.

Take care!

Thanks Mum!
[Picture credits] : Source Unknown, (they came with the email)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

{Fun Facts} Anthocyanin

Courtesy, yet again, from my favorite magazine, here is a great Fun Fact for Fall.

There is a 70% probability that Eastern North-American tree leaves contain ANTHOCYANIN, the pigment responsible for the red or brown autumn colouration. The combination of cool weather and reduced day light allows the warm pigment to emerge.

Head to  and search "Fall foliage" to discover the peak leaf-viewing days in your area. (or click here).

The New York City and Long Island area is Near its Peak (50-75% change) depending on your area, but you don't need a website to tell you that. Go enjoy the scenery for yourself.

To read more about Fall and how great it is, read my Fall Colours post from last year.

Take care!

1. Tanenbaum, Sharon. "The Simple List." Real Simple Oct. 2010: 14. 
2. Palm, Carl E. . "Why leaves Change Colour." Fall Foliage. . SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. 14 Oct. 2010 .

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What I Like About our Harlem Flat

A couple months ago, Wolfman and I, moved into our small flat in Harlem.
At first I wasn't too thrilled by it, mostly because I felt we were rushed into the decision. As time goes by, I feel it progressively growing on me.

Sure there is only one closet, there's no laundry room in the building and the closest one is, well, scary looking but our south facing windows let the sun shine in from morning until dusk.

The five flights of narrow winding stairs we must climb always smell something but they also bring us that much closer to the roof access which is positively magical at all times of day. Mornings are great for yoga and when the sun goes down, we have a beautiful view of the city lights all the way to the Empire State Building.

For all its flaws, it's by the foot of the basement staircase that we found our little Charlie, the Harlem Rabbit. She (although we frequently refer to her using masculine terms; old habits die hard) is such a joy to have. We have concluded that she thinks of herself as a dog and as she lounges around the house much like one. We're still working on "coming when called" and "playing fetch", but we'll get there.

In front of the flat, where we often find a parking space, grows a Sycamore; a species that range does not naturally extend to Montreal but I tree I love none the less. The smooth camouflage patterned bark, palmately lobed leaves, and round prickly fruit fill are wonderful enough on their own, but what really makes me smile are the leaf impressions scattered about the sidewalk; permanent proof of the Sycamore's presence. This tells me they most probably out down the cement in autumn. I wonder how many of my neighbors have noticed.

Those sun facing windows I mention, also look out at what Wolfman described as a NYC tree line; the rooftop of an abandoned building now colonised by Cottonwood and various hardy weeds. It's lots of fun to watch because it gets many visitors: European Starlings, Little Brown Jobs (unidentified birds) and most recently Blue Jays. As time passes this little green haven will develop as the species present are ecosystem engineers and soon I'll be spotting many more species from the comfort of my couch.

In the defense of my flat, against myself, I must also argue that when looking for a home, the most important consideration is LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION. Our flat is near the A-B-C-D-2 and 3 trains, we have a great Keyfood store, Chinese food restaurant, great Delis, a New York Public Library, a park, Wolfman's school AND a hospital all in under 15min walking distance. Oh yeah, and it's very affordable.

Yeah, I know, what's not to love about this place? Nothing. it's terrific.

This is a public apology to my Wolfman, for giving him such a hard time about the size of the place. Sometimes you just need to look at something from another perspective to see the beauty in the rough.

What do you like best about your place?

What kind of wildlife do you get to see?

I'd love to know.

Take Care!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Baby Boo Self-Contained Pumpkin Pies

When the cold finally sets in and the leaves change colour and float to the ground, it's pumpkin time. They start appearing in the grocery stores in all shapes and sizes, just begging to be bought. There's the pale yellow or stripped spaghetti squash, the beige gourd shaped butternut squash, the green and orange spattered acorn squash, and the good old big orange carving pumpkin just to name a few.

Pumpkins, squashes, zucchinis, gourds, cucumbers, and melons are in the Cucurbitaceae family and the first three share the same genus: Cucurbita. The genus is then divided into a couple of species (pepo, maxima, moschata and mixta) each holding hundreds of varieties of varying shapes, sizes and colours. C. pepo and C. maxima are the species that hold the most varieties that North American consumers know and enjoy. C. pepo can generally be identified by the strong 5 prong star shaped peduncle and vertical grooves; think traditional large orange carving pumpkins. C. maxima are most squashes; they have a more cork like roundish peduncle. Have you ever seen pumpkins weighing over 1000lbs? Well they are varieties of C. maxima; a squash just like the butternut and acorn squash we enjoy in soups and muffins.

Why eat pumpkins? They are stocked full of vitamins, minerals, fibers, and antioxidants. All though this isn't much of a concern in this day and age but whole pumpkins can be kept for up to 6 months on the kitchen table (if they aren't damaged). Back in the days when getting vegetables in the dead of winter was tough, that meant a lot. Nowadays, you can walk to the store and pick up an orange in the middle of the coldest and shortest days of winter (if you are willing to poke your nose outside). They are good for you, they are grown
locally in North America and world wide, and they are available all winter long. Pumpkin pie isn't the only way to eat them. For the next couple of weeks I'll be posting different pumpkin recipes every Tuesday (earlier next time). Feel free to send me your suggestions and favorite recipes.

The pumpkin variety I want to showcase today is Baby Boo; a small white pumpkin frequently used for decoration. What you might not know, is that it can easily be transformed into a delicious self-contained pumpkin pie.

Baked Miniature Pumpkin pies

What you need: 1 Baby Boo
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
1/2 Tbsp Butter
1/4 Tsp Cinnamon
Ice Cream (optional and quantity to taste)

The ingredients are measured for 1 pumpkin. Buy and prepare 1 pumpkin per person and mix the appropriate amount of stuffing.

How to: Preheat the oven to 350F. Mix the Brown sugar and melted butter in a small mixing bowl. Wash the pumpkin and cut off the top.

A word of advice: Cut the opening it big enough so a spoon can fit into the opening, the opening in the picture turned out to be too small which made eating it a messy challenge. I also strongly suggest you work on one pumpkin at the time to facilitate the lid to pumpkin association (seriously, it's not an easy puzzle).

Scrape out all the seeds. Once the pumpkin is gutted, pour in the brown sugar and butter into the pumpkin and sprinkle with cinnamon. Put the lid back on and place the pumpkin in a baking pan. Add 1/2 inch of water in the bottom of the pan.

Bake for 30 min or un
til tender.

When ready take the Baby Boo pies out of the oven. Be careful with the pan; it holds scolding hot water. Serve the pies with a scoop of ice cream or on its own.

VoilĂ ! A festive and easy upgrade from your traditional pumpkin pie.

To sum it up:
1- Preheat oven to 350F
2- Wash pumpkins and cut out lids (1 pumpkin per person)
3- Gut the pumpkin - remove seeds and strings
4- Place a Tbsp of Sugar and Butter mix in each pumpkin and sprinkle with cinnamon
5- Place pumpkin in a deep baking pan with a 1/2 inch of water.
7- Cook for 30min or until tender
8- Serve with a spoon and a helping of ice cream
9- Enjoy!

Let me know what you think.

Take care!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

{Being Green} Don't be a water waster

Water is now thought to be the most probable cause of another world war because of the exponential growth of the human population, the already small proportion of available drinking water and the increasing contamination of these sources.

Environmental campaigns always target our water consumption, National Geographic even produced a dramatic special issue called: Water, Our thirsty World. I wrote about it in a past post (click here). We all know about turning the water off when we brush our teeth, using low flow shower heads, toilets and what not. We are told but sometimes its hard to apply.

When it came down to showers, kicking the habit of long hot showers was much harder. I just love getting lost in a daze as the hot water gently washes over my body. But a 30min shower definitely puts me in the water waster category. I needed a method that would allow me to time my shower without the depressing thought of setting an alarm.

This is what I came up with:

The Concept: Use your favorite songs to time your shower.
On average, commercial songs generally run for about 4min. Showering along to two of your favorite songs will not only improve your mood but also keep your shower to under 10min; significantly reducing your water consumption.

What you need: Some music playing device that won't electrocute you in the process.

How to: Step 1. Install some kind of musical device in or near your bathroom. There are shower radios available out there but I use this old boom box that I've strategically placed on my window sill to avoid contact with water (yes, I know, the rain but that is an entirely different issue).

Step 2. Get ready for your shower. Start the musical count down as soon as you start the shower running. Sing along and lather up. My objective is to be out the shower and drying off by the time the second song comes to an end. Voila! You are now taking less than 10min to shower and you have some great soundtrack for your day or night - depending on your showering preference.

Give it a try and tell me what you think.

Do you have any other water reducing habits?

Take care!

[Picture credit]

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Book of Impatiens

From the Balsaminaceae or Touch-me-not Family comes this wonderfully exciting plant: Impatiens capensis. It is also known under the names of Orange spotted Jewel-weed and Orange spotted Touch-me-not.

At this time of year, it is a delight to encounter this plant because it's capsules are ready and they hold quite a surprise for the curious observer. But let's keep the best for last.

I. capensis is a widespread plant; I have encountered it in moist woods, brooksides and wet roadside ditches in Montreal, New York, and Virginia beach.

Gleason and Cronquist (1991) describe the range as such: Newfoundland and Quebec to Saskatchewan to South Carolina, Alabama, and Oklahoma – East Coast to about the middle of North America.

Impatiens flowers are easy to identify due to their shape. The spurred sac-shaped flowers droop upside down from slender pedicels. The opening if formed by three petals, one larger than the others making up the top lip (or bottom considering it's upside down). Many flowers have a radial symmetry (actinomorphic) meaning they can be divided in more than 2 equal parts. Jewel-weed flowers have bilateral symmetry (zygomorphic); you can split it into two equal parts much like the human body. If you want to read more about floral symmetry, click here.

Even without it's distinctive orange speckled flowers, Jewel-weed is easy enough to identify; alternate, softly toothed and delicately veined leaves upon a ghostly translucent stem with darkened nodes. I have seen it with a stem as thick as my finger and so thin it's a miracle it can stand at all. All you need is to see it once and from then on, they jump out at you.

I. capensis is the Aloe Vera of native North America. I rub the juice on insect bites to stop the itch. You can mix it with Vaseline (or fat) to make an antiseptic and hydrating cream
. My recent forest walks have led me to observe a funny tendency: when I come across a patch of Poison Ivy there is a patch of Jewel-weed not far from there. I haven't tried walking through Poison Ivy and rubbing Jewel-weed on it but maybe that's what nature is trying to tell me. That, or they tend to grow in similar conditions which not as romantic.

The main reason I love to meet this plant is due to its seed dispersal method. Impatiens produces elongated oval-shaped capsules which dangle so alluringly amongst the leaves and flowers. When you reach out to touch these little green pods they explode, shooting their seeds aloft. Believe you me, hours upon hours of fun. This particularly exciting dispersal method explains why they belong to the Touch-me-not family. The capsule twirls up into 4-5 curls, which once surrounded four seeds. Depending on when the capsule bursts, they can be green or a dark striated brown. When looking for capsules, pick the biggest and plumpest ones. You don't need to squeeze forcefully, a gently touch suffices to set off the mechanism. Try and catch the seeds if you can. The seeds will land a couple meters away from the parent plant and lay dormant until the following spring.

They are not the only ones that propel their seeds. Dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium)
, a parasitic plant, gathers up hydrostatic pressure in the fruit and shoots out the sticky seeds at 100 Kilometers per hour (65 miles an hour). Where dispersal agents are concerned, plant scientists have divided them in three large categories: wind, water, and animals. Propelled seeds are considered a form of wind dispersal along side dust-like orchid seeds, winged schizocarps of maples and the plumelike pappus or parachutes of the dandelions.

Keep your eyes peeled and fingers ready!
Take care!


Gleason, H.A & Cronquist, A.. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada - 2nd Ed.. Bronx, NY: The New York Botanical Garden Press, 1991.

Raven, P.H., Everet, R.F. & Eichhorn, S.E.. Biology of Plants - 7th Ed.. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company Publishers, 2005.

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