Black Midnight Cupcakes


My daughter is homesick. She started college this fall, art school. I’m getting text messages that she is hungry – that’s a sure sign. She won’t admit to being homesick, but I know. So, of course, I’ll be making a trip to see her. She’ll want to go shopping and load up on snacks. I’ll try not to look in the cart. I get anxiety over monosodium glutamate and artificial colors.  It drives her crazy.
Since it’s Halloween week, I made her  Black Midnight mini cupcakes. I frosted them with cream cheese frosting. The ingredients are all organic, the eggs pasture raised and the butter and cream cheese are from grass fed cows and cultured.  I won’t tell her but she will know.

Black Midnight mini Cupcakes
Heat oven to 350 degrees
Ingredients
2 cups flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup cocoa
2/3 cup butter
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
Cream sugar, butter and cocoa. Add vanilla and eggs. Sift dry ingredients. Combine milk and water. Add dry ingredients, alternating with mixture of milk and water. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Fill mini cupcakes about 2/3 full. If not using papers, grease and flour tins. Bake 8-10 minutes, until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cream Cheese Frosting
1/2 cup butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
Beat all ingredients until smooth.
Happy Halloween!
image

Home from Williamsburg


I was away for a few days in Williamsburg, Virginia.  I love going there and always come back with lots of ideas for projects and my gardens.

This visit was particularly nice because the trees are still green there and just starting to turn.  Here, the trees are bare. The berries on the bittersweet wreaths I made popped so I still have some fall color in my windows.

I got lots of  wreath ideas while I was in Colonial Williamsburg.  The bittersweet and grape vines are still pliable here so now would be a good time to cut them and wind up some wreaths to decorate  later for Christmas.

I really like bee skeps. I googled how to make them and they seem too complicated for now but I think it would be pretty easy to make them out of vines, in this traditional shape. Today, though, I am going to pot up some oregano, thyme and mint from outside. I saw these herb baskets and thought how nice they would be set in a sunny window during the winter.

Last Call

I finally called it quits and gathered in the last of the tomatoes and peppers from the garden.  House plants and patio plants that could be wintered over came in as well.  These had to be repotted. Their soil is tired from the summer’s growth and I didn’t want to bring in any bugs that might have been crawling around or laying eggs in them.


I spent a lot of time this past week with my Father, trying to help him decide where he wants to live after December 1st, when the closing on his house will take place. We looked at different condos and communities but his heart isn’t in it. A decision seems a long way off. Meanwhile, a relative showed up at his house one night needing a place to stay. Amongst the truckload of her possessions were 3 cats. As the house is still being shown until the buyer’s mortgage approval comes through, this is a problem.  That is not the only problem with this arrangement but my Father feels he can’t turn away a family member in need. Hmmm, life gets complicated.

Ripening tomatoes in the windowsills and finding sunny spots for the newly potted plants is very therapeutic. Cooking is too. I baked my oldest daughter an upside down peach cake. Then, I sliced up 5 big apples, added some cinnamon and 2 Tablespoons of honey and dotted them with a couple of tablespoons of butter. This cooked along with the peach cake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Topped with freshly whipped cream, it was delicious.

Kitchen works & Garden Update


This morning, I had a few chores that had to be done before I could go outside.  I  dug up Valerian root yesterday and wanted to get it cleaned and tinctured.  After a lot of soaking and rinsing, it was ready to be cut, crushed and set into grain alcohol.  Valerian is a great herb, one of the few sedative herbs that is actually nutritive for the body.   In rare cases it can cause excitability but I find it to be a good sleep aid. That may come in handy as I’ll be helping my Dad move out of my childhood home very soon and possibly in with me.   Valerian has a bad smell, sort of a sweet, decaying scent.  The whole house smelled of it, kind of disgusting.

Next was kombucha.  The batch I made 10 days ago was ready to drink and a new brew started.  I grew my first scoby from a store bought bottle of GT kombucha  almost a year ago.  Since then, I’ve accumulated a lot of scobies  and compost them in the garden.

Elephant garlic needed separating before being planted.  These came from a local farmer that I met last weekend at our annual garlic festival.

Once outside, I started some fall cleanup in the garden.  I picked a couple of things and then began prepping the garlic patch.  Suddenly, the sky got dark and rain came pouring down.  ugh

Herbs in the Home

One year ago, I was putting up “Going Out of Business” signs in the windows of the little store I had for 9 years.  I carried a lot of organic herbal products that I made and packaged myself. Many of the ingredients were grown in my own gardens.  It was a LOT of work making it all on a large scale and adhering to strict, high quality, organic and sustainable standards that I wanted to maintain. I gave up the whole business and selling part of things, but I still make everything for my home and my family. I thought it would be nice to start sharing some of the recipes of the things I make on this blog.

image
This time of year, I used to sell a lot of herbal sachets. They are little bags filled with dried herbs that naturally repel mice and insects, particularly moths. They are used in dressers, linen cupboards, closets and packed among clothes and blankets in storage. They can also be used in suitcases, tossed in a sleeping bag or sent off to college in the clothes bins.
I make them with dried herbs from the garden. Lavender is one of the main ingredients because I love the fragrance and it is a natural moth repellent. I use lots of peppermint and pineapple mint. Any type of mint is fine. It acts as a fixative and is an insect and mouse repellent. Ground orris root is a fixative as well. It has a subtle, powdery floral scent and one tablespoon of orris root is added for every 5 cups of dried herb.  If orris root isn’t handy, no worries, mint will set everything up just fine. Dried rose petals go into the mix too. Dried citrus peels or chamomile flowers add a nice note. There is no set recipe here, the key is to make mint about 1/4 of the total mix.


Mix all the dried herbs in a bowl. Essential oils can be added, if you like. A tablespoon of vegetable oil for every 5 cups of ingredients can be added to enhance the natural fragrance of the herbs. Loosely fill muslin, drawstring bags. They can be used multiple times. Little bags are easily made using fabric scraps too.

image

Garden Update, Echinacea root tincture

image

Some of the trees are bare and I’m ankle deep in leaves.   Nights are cold and the days have been warm.  I’m watching the temperatures, hoping for more red peppers before the first frost. Cabbage will soon be sauerkraut.


I tinctured some Echinacea root today. This is a chunk of root from a 3 or 4 year old plant. What’s left will grow back nicely in the spring.
image
It’s best to use grain alcohol when tincturing roots or bark. There’s no need to dry the root first. It actually makes a superior tincture with fresh root. Wash the root well, cut and macerate the pieces and follow the same procedure I describe for the whole plant tincture.

The tomato patch is looking grim but the fruits are still ripening on the vines. There are still a few bright spots in the gardens.


This season is coming to an end but I’m still picking a few things every day.   This has been a wonderful year in the gardens and I’m already excited and making plans for the Spring.
image

Rainy Day Remedies

imageThe ordinary arts we practice every day at home are more important to the soul than their simplicity might suggest -Thomas Moore

We’ve had a lot of rain.  Truth be told, waking up to gloomy skies again had me feeling a bit glum. I began to imagine all the bulbs I recently planted rotting away outside under all the soggy leaves. That led to the thought of leaf removal, never a fun prospect. As I thought about this, my yard grew into gigantic proportions and the thought of raking it all made me want to stay in bed. Overwhelming thoughts…one led to another. Better to get up and moving instead of mentally wallowing around in moldy leaf piles.

A little Aromatherapy was called for. I added some lemon oil to the cleanser I’d made.  Lemon, clean and bright was bound to help lighten up this dismal day. Motivating too….soon the kitchen was sparkling. A touch of lemon oil and tangerine on my dust cloth had things picking up a good shine and looking better. Thunder began rumbling outside, the temperature was dropping. I soaked a bit of cotton with cinnamon oil and sucked it up with the vacuum. The faintest scent of cinnamon trailed behind me as I made my way through the house. By now the rain was pouring, pounding on the roof and lashing against the windows. Definitely a day for soup and some home made bread. A big pot of soup went on the stove and as it was simmering, I mixed up the bread dough and set it to rise.

Upstairs, before putting fresh sheets on the bed, I sprinkled a few drops of lavender oil on the mattress underneath. A few drops more on the mop smelled heavenly and picked up the grain on my old wooden floors. It looked so good, I did the stairs on my way down as well. The wind was picking up and howling. Leaves were coming down in sodden masses. Soon the trees would be bare. Still some time for apple picking but not this day. This was a good day for baking them. Baked apples and whipped cream. I peeled the apples, sliced them up, added brown sugar, some spice and popped them into the oven with the bread. I made myself a cup of tea and pulled out my work bag. Spreading out my projects, deciding what to work on, I noticed the darkening sky which got me thinking how nice it would be to light the fireplace…..

Home Made

hand painted table

Table I painted

My Grandmother grew up on a farm and raised her children on a farm as well.  They had a cow and some pigs, geese, ducks and chickens and a giant garden.  Canning, churning, cheesemaking, baking, sewing, soap making, tending the garden and the children…she did it all and nothing went to waste.    She made comforters and stuffed them with goose feathers.  Any stale bread or cake was ground into crumbs and added to the next batter.   Ashes and fat were used to make soap.

I’m told the house I live in now is a lot like where she raised her children.  By the time I knew her, she was widowed and  living  down south in reduced circumstances.  She had 4 small rooms and the littlest bit  of land.  No matter.  She made it her own and she had a garden.  Behind the house was a small tin shed she called her “utility room”.  There she kept her treasures, all cast offs and rummage sale finds.  There were yards and yards of material,  neatly arranged, color coded, on  floor to ceiling shelves that lined  2 of the walls.   Glass jars filled with buttons, thread, yarn, laces and trims, were on shelves along the third wall with pots of glue, sparkles and paint. In the middle of it all was an old wooden work table and next to that, her  foot pedaled, black Singer sewing machine.

From this place, she worked her magic, transforming  her little home into a clean, cozy nest.  She did it all with her own hands.  Everything always had a fresh lick of paint.  Starchy white curtains were drawn back so sunlight filled the rooms.  Chairs and couches, plumply reupholstered, were strewn with cheerful pillows in happy colors. Chenille bedspreads and patchwork quilts were on the beds and her braided rugs on the floors. Here and there, you’d see a bit of sparkle from some old jewelry, on a soapdish she’d  made or on a picture frame.  Pick up a dishtowel, and there was a smiling duck she’d embroidered.   There were always homemade jellies and a scratch cake in the pantry, and homemade bread in the breadbox.  Her house smelled like laundry brought in fresh from the line.

This is what I aspire to, though I have a long way to go.  I have my own little workspace where I sew, paint and repurpose things to make them beautiful to me.   I’m happiest there, in my garden and my kitchen, working on things to make my home fresh, cheerful and clean, where nothing goes to waste and  I can make things that I call beautiful.  Life is not easy, far from it.   Appalling things happen, personally,  globally.   I am learning to do what I can and let go of, or pray about , those things over which I am powerless.   In the meantime, this is where I am and what I do.

Painted rocker with my Granmother's quilt

Rocker I painted with my Grandmother’s quilt