Winter Cheer

Crazy as it may seem with temperatures in the negative digits and 3 feet of snow on the ground, Spring is in the air! The days are getting longer  …it doesn’t get dark until 6 pm now and  seeds are starting to sprout.  My leeks are coming up!   I saw a notice posted in a coffee shop, offering coffee grounds to gardeners.  My husband checked in with a local coffee shop near to where he works and if we provide a bucket, they are willing to fill it with used grounds.  I finished painting another one of my masonite boards.  I got a little carried away with this one but at this point in my life it’s all about the process, not the product.  I had a bit of a laugh to myself when it was done because the cherub at the top came out looking like my Mom, totally unplanned.   Lol!  Art therapy, longer days and spring seeds work wonders to keep high spirits and hopeful thoughts for the coming days, even in the dead of winter.

Snow, Seeds & Leeks

 

It’s still snowing like crazy. We got about another 10 inches so far.  As I was clearing the driveway, I made some final decisions on what to plant in next year’s gardens. I rewarded myself for the shoveling by ordering some seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  They have taken the “safe seed pledge”,  they don’t buy or sell genetically engineered seeds.  There’s a Safe Seed Resource list  online that lists sources from all over the world.

For the first time, I am going to try and grow leeks so I started some seeds indoors. In a few months, I’ll sow some more leek seeds directly in the garden to see which lot does better.

 

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Home remedies, Starting seeds & a Pug

Schools are already being cancelled for tomorrow because another foot of snow is supposedly on its way!  Milk sold out today at the grocery store but they have plenty of cactus seeds.

May 31  is the date here when we are deemed safe from frosts.   I save all plastic containers that can be used to start seeds indoors.  A  large, screw in hook is a handy device to create drainage holes.  It easily makes a hole in thick or thin containers without cracking the plastic.  It’s too early to start seeds for my garden but I thought it would be fun to try sprouting some cactus. (cactusses?, cacti?)

There’s been a lot of  cold and flu remedies, natural antibiotic and ‘master tonic’ recipes floating around on the internet.  I’m not sure I would subscribe to those claims but the ingredients looked interesting so  I made a quick vinegar tincture with garlic, ginger, horseradish and a little bit of  hot pepper.  That combination will surely open the sinuses but I’m thinking a couple spoonfuls would  give a good punch to a smoothie, dipping sauce or salad dressing.

I think our dog  Harvey might be feeling a little depressed over getting another snowstorm.

 

 

Cousins & Senior Bananas

Snow Day!!  This morning I  got a text from my cousin, “Are you baking today?”  Turns out we were both making something to use up our “senior bananas”….that ‘s what she calls them, so funny.   She is an artist in the kitchen!  (outside the kitchen too).  At family gatherings, we all bring something home-made and whatever she brings is the first thing to disappear from the table.  Today she made a banana cake with struesal  topping and finished it off with a beautiful, drizzled glaze.

Meanwhile, I was trying to figure out a way to trick my family with my brown bananas.  I used a carrot cake recipe and played around with the ingredients to try and sneak in healthy things.  I substituted coconut oil and organic butter for the vegetable oil. I cut the amount of sugar in half and substituted it for Sucanat and I added 2 large, mashed bananas to the mix .  Organic flour, pasture raised eggs, extra cinnamon and spices… my cake came out delicious and didn’t need frosting.   If I was bringing this to a family gathering I would definitely finish it with a homemade cream cheese frosting and pray that my cousin wasn’t bringing her banana cake.  I know mine would be left standing alone on the table, in shame.

I am watching my daughter’s dog, Ella this weekend.  She looks so sweet and harmless…until you try and put drops in her ears. Cousin Ella gets scary very quickly.  Her body whips around like an alligator’s.   Geez!!   I got a text from another cousin, our family dog-whisperer, reminding me not to restrain her by the scruff of the neck as it could cause an eyeball to collapse in this type of dog.     I love my family.

Snow, Bees & Yo-yos

My daughter is back at school and snow is in the forecast again.  I’ve been working on color filled projects and reading about bees. I’ve tentatively decided to go with the top bar beehive..it seems easier, a little more natural and organic.   This is a big expensive.  I figure, including the bees it will be $500!   A hive  starts with around 10,000 bees.  I watched some videos on You Tube of new bee keepers  getting  bees into their hives.  I have to admit, it is a little intimidating.   I’m not ready to commit, lol.

I’ve been resourcing heirloom seed companies and I came across a company that sells heirloom fruit trees..some dating back to the 1600’s.   It’s called Orange Pippin Trees.   A lot of  the trees are sold out.  Hopefully that is a good thing, maybe a lot of people are trying to keep these old varieties going.  I’m  trying to fit a few small apple trees into my garden plan.

This is a good time to paint woodwork, mend quilts and freshen up the house.  These little yoyo’s will soon become  pillows.   My goal is to have everything inside fresh, clean, cheerful and organized  by the time gardening season starts…yayy

 

Bees?

When I was a kid, we never had a garden. My Dad was a city boy. My Mom grew up on a farm and didn’t want that life for herself. I lived across the street from a Methodist church. I found some gardening books at a rummage sale there. The next day, I was digging a patch right in the middle of the lawn. My first garden. I’ve had one ever since. I’m still finding gardening books at rummage sales too.

Last January I joined the local Beekeepers Association. I had been reading everything I could find about bees. I felt ready to set up a hive and get going… until I went to bee school. I stumbled out of that first 6 hour beekeeping class totally overwhelmed and confused. What was I thinking? All those diseases, CCD, attracting bears and rodents…never mind the prospect of possibly being responsible for the deaths of thousands of little creatures … No way! I never went back. I still really wanted one of those suits though, lol.

Lately, I’ve been reconsidering the bee thing. I’m thinking gardening school could easily be a deterrent to someone who’s never gardened before… diseases, insect invasions, animal pilferings, poisonous plants, soil management, ph analysis, compost, dead plants. Maybe keeping bees is a lot easier than school made it out to be

Doldrums & Super-juice


I was away for a week with my whole family, (almost), including the dogs! I loved being all together again. It was so much fun.
This morning was a different story. The long car ride home yesterday, the too-quiet house, a week of vacation food ….I felt like a blob.
The temperature was 22 degrees and the wind was terrible. I decided I’d rather face the bitter cold than the dreary prospect of taking down the Christmas decorations so I headed out to our local organic market.
The produce department invigorated and inspired me. (pathetic, I know) Overwhelmed by healthy thoughts, I gathered up ingredients to make a real powerhouse juice… Watercress, wheatgrass, carrots and a nice fat pineapple. Pineapple is a great anti- inflammatory and good for digestion. Beets would have made a healthy addition as they are good blood purifiers but I can’t stand the taste of them. I also picked up a good looking ginger rhizome, raw honey and a bottle of raw, organic apple cider vinegar.
When I got home, I pulled out one of my Christmas presents…a little Ninja juicer. Doubting if it could handle a raw carrot, I threw it in along with some pineapple and my greens. Wanting to hit the whole color spectrum, I added some frozen berries from my garden. It was smooth and delicious! Quick, easy and clean up was a snap. The rest of the pineapple was cut up into cubes and frozen.
Then, I diced up about an inch of the ginger and added it to 2 cups of boiled water. I covered it and left it to steep for a couple hours. Later, I added a teaspoon of honey and 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar, mixed it until the honey dissolved and drank it with ice. It tasted really good and clean, very refreshing. I had bought a bottled drink in an expensive gourmet store while I was away that had these same ingredients, except they used stevia instead of honey. It was advertised as being good for detoxifying, digestion and clearing the sinuses. My version tasted a lot like theirs and cost practically nothing.
Still avoiding the Christmas decorations, I cleaned out the fridge and noticed the eggs were getting close to expiring. I made some custard. Organic milk and cream, pasture raised eggs and substituting sucanat for sugar… healthy dessert for tonight.
I stuck the eggshells into the oven when the custard was almost done,that makes them clean and easy to crumble. I keep a jar of powdered eggshells under the sink and add them to boost my seedlings when they get transplanted into the garden. The garden…I can’t wait

Pie for Breakfast & Christmas Cactus


I officially start my Christmas season with pumpkin pie for breakfast. Thanksgiving was wonderful, all 3 of my girls were here. We had a great day, lots of good food, games, memories and so much to be thankful for! Yorkshire pudding was on the menu, as it has been for generations in my family. This year it raised up nice and puffy….made up for the gravy which was a little on the thin side, lol.
I saved some of the seeds from the spaghetti squash. Hopefully I can get these to grow in the spring and if I manage to confound the dreaded squash borer this year, I love the idea of having squash in the summer from the one we had at Thanksgiving.
The market had these pretty Christmas cactuses for $5.00. I couldn’t resist. They are easy house plants and live for generations. Once this little cactus settles down and gets used to its new home, I’ll transplant it and with permanent marker write the date and my name on the new pot. I’ll paint a rock with the same information and a little picture of a bee. If I use acrylic paint and varnish it, set it on top of the soil with the plant, that will last for years too. Maybe some day a grandchild who loves plants like I do will have this plant! My blogger friend Ginene, from Fox and Finch Antiques had violet plants that were her great Aunt’s from 1955! Thanks for the inspiration, Ginene, and have a wonderful day everyone!!

Thanksgiving Table Arrangements

I spent some time today figuring out how  I’m going to set the table for Thanksgiving.   There’s a lot of Bittersweet outside but the berries are poisonous and drop easily from the vines.   Better to keep everything contained. A few strands placed within vases does the trick. There’s no need to add water and they will stay pretty for a long time. These bring color to the table, look light and airy and stay neat.  Sparkling glass, natural twigs and berries with a bit of metallic…  Simple, homey and a  little special. Works for me!

Loose Ends


This has been a busy week! Mostly I’ve been cleaning, organizing and tying up loose ends so next week I can focus on Thanksgiving. Then our Christmas season begins. So exciting!
Oranges are tasting good right now. Citrus shouldn’t be composted but I don’t throw away the peels. The oils are naturally antibacterial and they smell so nice and fresh and clean. I spread them out on some paper and as they dry I add them to  white vinegar in a big jar. Soon this will be filled with the dried peels and in about 4-6 weeks, I’ll strain the peels out, put the liquid in a spray bottle and I’ll have a good, natural cleaner that won’t smell like salad dressing.
The tinctures I made this summer were all ready to be strained, bottled up, labeled and put away in the medicine chest. One of my favorites is lemon balm. It’s such a safe and gentle herb and it is said to have anti viral properties and be mildly relaxing. The tincture picks up that green, lemony scent. It’s delicious as a tea but it’s properties aren’t retained well in drying. It’s very easy to grow, kind of takes over really, but for some reason the tinctures and essential oils are  pricey in the stores. I think it would make an excellent cordial- another project for next year.

There’s going to be a lot of cooking, baking and holiday projects going on here. I arranged a separate work space for the projects because I’ll need my kitchen free. It’s been fun organizing my sparkly bits and pretty patterns and arranging it all together. Just looking at everything gives me so many ideas! The sewing machine will take up a permanent residence in the midst of it from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas week. This is such a wonderful time of the year!!!

Kuri, Cabbages, Tomato Soup and Winter

The forecast of snow and freezing rain prompted me to pull in the last of the cabbage. Blustery winds and an icy chill, the kind that goes right to the fingertips, drove me into the kitchen. The tomatoes had all ripened in the windowsills and I found an interesting looking Kuri squash on sale at our organic market.  The squash was such a rich and pretty color, I decided to use it to make our Thanksgiving soup. Googling it, I read that Kuri squash has a delicate flavor reminiscent of chestnuts. I interpreted that as being bland so I seeded, quartered and roasted it on a cookie sheet with other vegetables that I had on hand; garlic, onions, carrots and tomatoes. After about 30 minutes, I scooped the flesh out of the squash and puréed it with the other roasted vegetables. It tasted delicious. Into the freezer it went. I will add broth to thin it out and finish it with a little cream on Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, I stewed the last of my summer tomatoes and put them through the mill. Instead of freezing the lot, I made a quick batch of tomato soup. I sautéed an onion and a little garlic with lots of fresh oregano in butter until the onions were soft. I puréed that with the tomatoes and let it simmer for awhile.  A touch of cream  cut the acidity and brought some richness and warmth  to the mix.

I made up a batch of sauerkraut with my cabbages and added carrots and kale. I get such a thrill over my sauerkraut.  It’s so gratifying to think how I started with tiny seeds in April and end up with beautiful jars  of healthy, probiotic goodness that will last me all winter!  A lot of people give testimony about the healings that take place when they introduce fermented foods into their diets.  The only thing I noticed was  a weight loss , around 10-15 pounds.  I’m not complaining.

 So, Winter is here, unofficially.  I have embraced it.  There’s usually something good bubbling on the stove and roasting in the oven.  Extra quilts are pulled out of the chests and piled on the beds.   Sewing  baskets, hooks, yarns and my paintbox keep me happy and busy after dinner,  by the fireplace.  Life is good.

 

 

November- Wormwood & Apples


Wandering outside in the garden today, Silver King Artemesia caught my eye. It’s a Wormwood, one of the few things harvested in November and I had almost forgotten about it!  I snapped a few stems and within minutes had them wound into a simple wreath. It has a fresh, clean scent. I hung it in the kitchen, on the door leading to my spooky old cellar.
Tomorrow, I’ll gather the rest of the Silver King. Dried, it makes a great addition to sachets, being a powerful moth and insect deterrent. It also has antifungal and antibacterial properties so I use it to make a simple household cleaner. I fill a glass jar with fresh or dried wormwood and citrus peels and completely cover everything with white vinegar, so all the herb is submerged. This mixture sits for 4 weeks and is shaken daily. Then the herb and citrus are strained out of the vinegar and it’s all done. All this will take no time at all but today I had other plans.
I had a big basket of local organic apples and wanted to use them while they were fresh. I made apple turnovers. They freeze really well and are worth the effort. I used organic, non hydrogenated vegetable shortening and butter to make the pastry and rolled it a little thinner than I would for a pie. Also, I mixed a couple tablespoons of arrowroot flour in with the apples, sugar and cinnamon. That thickened the juice as the fruit cooked so the crust didn’t get wet or soggy. So delicious!
 

Hello November

Hello November! Today was windy, raining and cold.  Gloomy  Aconitum, not one of my favorites,  is still holding on to its flowers.  Also called Monkshood and Wolfsbane, every part of this plant is poisonous.  It’s often featured as the culprit  causing gruesome deaths  in murder mysteries.   It was one of the few plants here when I moved to this house 14 years ago.

This little Black Eyed Susan vine, on the other hand, is so cheerful and  still blooming.   I started the seeds inside in early April and  then set the baby plants into a pot,  trellis in place,  6 weeks later.  By mid June the vines had scrambled to the top of the trellis and were covered with flowers.  I save these seeds.   After the flowers bloom, I pull the pods and set them in a bowl on the window sill.  One night in September, I heard  lots of little popping noises. All  the pods were opening and shooting little black seeds out of the bowl.  This is a fun and exuberant plant from start to finish.

Today I made some pizzas.  Trying to come up with a  thin crust that is  both crispy and a little chewy, I  substitutied 1/3 of the white flour for semolina flour and it worked pretty well.  I topped them with mozzarella, cheddar and asiago cheeses and tomato sauce.   Really good! Thinking of something else I wanted to get done, I headed out to the vegetable garden for some cabbage. Halfway there, soaking wet and freezing, I turned around and decided not to make sauerkraut. Better to spend the afternoon with a pot of tea in my favorite chair, making Christmas presents.  Happy November!

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.

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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.

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Garden Update, Echinacea root tincture

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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.
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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.
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