Monday, August 29, 2005

on the road again

Today is the last day of summer for the kid, so that meant a little shopping. First I had to pick her up from a slumber party, and along the way I passed a little bridge over a creek, chocked with jewelweed and tons of other brush. Its been so dry here lately that the rain from the weekend revived the creek and the plants that had their feet soaking in it. The jewelweed below is in bloom, and you can see the little orange flowers.
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Growing alongside the bridge was a bright purple morning glory among the thistles The color was so striking, that I had to take a picture. They are so cheery in the morning - in stark contrast to the teenager who was waiting in the car.
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Then we headed to an outlet center in nearby Hershey PA. Its interesting to drive under the roller coasters and past the zoo. The streetlights in Hershey are shaped like Hershey kisses - some with the wrappers on, and some brown. The whole town smells deeply of chocolate, and there are beautiful homes built long ago when Milton Hershey and his company were building the town. The story of Milton Hershey is an interesting one. He wound up building a school for orphans that is still in operation. The school provides incredible opportunities for children that wouldn't otherwise have them. There are travels, scholarships, and jobs for the kids who take their classes seriously.

But the trip was not without the usual road construction. Oh my no. There was one line up that had men getting out of their cars and wandering around (that always helps) trying to figure out what the hold-up was. I pondered the use of gasoline while the car idled for a good 10 minutes - along with about 100 other cars. But along the creeping way we passed one of the roadside stands that are so prevalent around here during the summer. It was a good chance to take a picture as we were going about 2 mph.
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These are almost always run on the honor system. You take what you want and leave the proper amount of money. Occasionally kids come along and take a handful of money, but for the most part they are left alone. They are one of the things that I miss most during the winter. Soon the vegetables and fruits of summer will be replaced with pumpkins, squash, and corn shocks. Eventually there will be Christmas tree stands in some of the stands. There's always something to shop for along the back roads here.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

"too many" tomato recipes :-)

These are taken from The Shaker Cookbook by Caroline B. Piercy A few more details might be nice (like a temp and time for the custard....) but they are unusual and interesting. Seems like everyone is up to their ears in tomatoes, so try some of these!

TOMATO FIGS
8 pounds small, firm ripe tomatoes
2 pounds brown sugar
Scald tomatoes and remove skins. Cover with sugar and let stand 2 hours. Then simmer in their own juice until tomatoes are clarified. Do not stir or break tomatoes. Remove tomatoes from kettle and place on flat platter and gradually flatten by placing a heavy platter on top. Weigh down slightly. Remove platter and cover with syrup in which tomatoes were cooked. Cover with cheesecloth and let set several days. Sprinkle every morning with fine sugar and set in sun. At end of week sprinkle with sugar and pack in flat boxes. These are very delicious and taste almost like the best quality of figs. They keep well for a year.

GREEN TOMATO PRESERVES
12 medium sized green tomatoes
3 Tbsp. salt
2 lemons, sliced fine
2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp. powdered cloves
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. allspice
Cube tomatoes and sprinkle well with salt; let stand overnight. Rinse and drain thoroughly and add lemons sliced as thin as paper. Add brown sugar and spices. Simmer for 2 hours. If you happen to have oil of spices in these particular flavors, use small quantities of the oil instead of the powdered spice, for this will give you a crystal-clear preserve. Seal in jars.

SHAKER TOMATO JAM
4 pounds ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped
16 cups sugar
4 large oranges
8 lemons
3 sticks cinnamon
Scald tomatoes to remove skins, and chop fine. Add sugar, the juice and grated rind of oranges and lemons and cinnamon and cook until it jells on spoon. Skim, pour and seal. This makes a most appetizing, shocking pink confection.

TOMATO CUSTARD
4 pounds ripe tomatoes
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
Stew tomatoes in own juice (no water used) and pass through sieve. Cool and add to beaten eggs, milk and seasoning. Bake in buttered custard cups. Serves 6.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Sassafras

Last evening's wanderings had us out along the edge of the evergreen farm, dodging spider webs and mosquitos in the gathering dusk. The sun went down like a cantaloupe into a dish of rosy syrup, and the night air was cool enough to walk without discomfort for the first time in weeks. I noticed at my feet a scarlet mitten shaped leaf, and stopped to look around and see where the tree was. Sassafras is usually small, scrubby bush-like growth - maybe 10-12 feet high, so it was a surprise to find that several trees of a good height were along the edge of the next field. The first tree we needed to stretch up to reach the lowest branches. The next had branches at eye-level.
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The Sassafras albidum is a plant I remember fondly from childhood. It grew profusely in the woods around the house, and the mittens that grew amongst the 3 differently shaped leaves were a fascination. The scent of the twigs is that of root beer. If you look carefully at the photo above, you can make out the 3 different shapes... the single lobed leaves, the mittens, and the "two-thumbed mittens".

Sassafras leaves are used to make the spice Gumbo File. They are dried and then ground to a fine powder. When added to Gumbo (1 Tbsp. per quart) it thickens the liquid. It is added at the end of cooking, and not boiled.

The root bark of young saplings is used for tea. This is gathered when the tree is dormant, and dried until brittle. The bark can be used repeatedly to produce the delicious deep-rose colored tea. I remember people making root beer when I was little. Gathering sassafras roots (and others, most likely), they'd mix up their family recipe, put it in gallon jugs, and set it in the mild spring sun to "ripen". There was a slight fizziness, if I recall, formed by the formenting of the beverage. The tea can also be used as the liquid for a hard-crack candy or brittle, or a light syrup. It was used for ages as a spring tonic - to get the sap running in the spring. I must add here that a component - Safriole, I believe - has been found to be a carcinogen when shoveled into lab rats. Used as a spring tonic, or the occasional cup of tea, we would be hard pressed to ever consume quantities anything like the poor rats. At an herb conference it was once explained that: there are far more carcinogens in a can of beer than in a cup of tea, but A) there is no sassafras lobby in Washington, and B) nobody ever consumes a 6-pack of sassafras tea in an evening, but as usual we must all educate ourselves and make our own decisions about such matters.

Sassafras is one of those things that just makes me happy to see. Childhood associations of being in the woods with my grandfather combined with the appeal to my senses (visual, scent, touch) are very strong. It was also growing along the back of our shop at the renaissance faire, and seems to pop up to wave hello whenever I'm in a deciduous woodland.

Recently I read some threads on a list where folks were saying that they thought wildcrafting plants was very dangerous. It made me a little sad that they've become so distant from the plants around them. It is true that one cannot plunge into it and put every leaf, root, or berry into their mouth without knowing what it is, but to me, this is who we are... almost inherent knowledge that some are quick to throw away. To pay $3.99 for a pint of raspberries, after passing them growing wild (and free) on the way to the grocery store just makes no sense to me.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

harvest recipes

The blog host just made a change, allowing me to work in Word, and publish directly from the program. Could be exciting… we’ll see. I’ll try adding clip-art, etc., to see if it works. edited to add... no, that doesn't come through. Now that would be fun. Here are a couple of late summer recipes to try, since the harvest is in full swing:

Grilled Corn, Mexicali Style
6 ears corn
4 T. butter
the following spices, pre-mixed…
½ tsp. cumin pwd.
½ tsp. coriander pwd.
½ tsp. ground basil
½ tsp ground oregano
½ tsp chili pwd.
Pull the husks back to reveal the cobs while leaving intact. Remove silk and replace husks. Soak the ears in water. Melt butter and stir in the spice mix. Pull back the husks again and apply the melted butter mixture to the corn. Grill for about 15 minutes, turning every few minutes.


Homemade Boursin-Style Cheese Spread

1-8 oz. package cream cheese
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. worcestershire sauce
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. fresh parsley, minced (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
1/2 tsp. each of fresh minced sweet marjoram,
thyme, rosemary, tarragon and sage (or 1/4 tsp. each, dried)

Soften the cream cheese and butter. Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate. Let stand for at least 24 hours for flavors to blend. Serve with crackers, or on bagels. Also makes an excellent stuffing for celery!from Mary Ellen Wilcox


Okay… lets see what happens.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Walkin' the dogs.

The kid is off to the beach for a week with her dad, and I promised I'd visit "the girls". The girls are the dogs, Tiny (below) and Abby. Tiny is an enormous sweet old girl of dubious lineage. Molly named her Tiny when she was a pup. She roams the property and protects it from ground hogs, voles, and those big bees. Abby is a bit camera shy. We kidnapped (sort of) her from a bad home several years back, and she now prefers to stay inside as much as possible. She also needs to stay on a leash, because she was used to 250 acres and can't seem to figure out where she is when she's loose now. We think she might be a mix of Doberman and hound. She is also older and very sweet. They are glad to see me when I visit.
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We walked around and looked at some of the plants. Everything is wildly overgrown and getting way out of hand. This fall, we're going to dig everything out and put them into a more manageable arrangement. That should be interesting. Some of the blackberry lilies are in bloom. It was dusk, so it was hard to get a good picture of them. They are a gorgeous deep orange with speckles - about the size of a quarter, and grow on stalks of several flowers.
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The really cool thing about them is that when the seed pods ripen, they burst open and look exactly like blackberries. I'll try to remember to get a shot of that later. These aren't ready to pop yet. They make a really pretty arrangement when mixed with lunaria, silver dollars.
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The grape vine is completely taking over the barn. There is a trellis that forms a sort of porch roof in front of the barn that is where they are *supposed* to grow, but they have spread out to cover the lilac bush, snaked along the power line to the barn and just look almost jungle-like. Not sure that's a good thing. At least there will be tons of vine to make wreaths with - if I don't get electrocuted.
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So It looks like there's lots of work to be done. Most of my plants still reside happily with the ex. Lucky we stayed friends! I'm looking forward to getting everything into a better place. The lavender plants have fallen under the shade of a growing oak tree, and the rugosa rose is happy where it is....too happy, I'm afraid. The valerian is spreading like crazy, and I'm thinking of putting some in the woods to see if it will be happy there. The elderberries got attacked by caterpillers, and look pretty forlorn, but the bee balm and echinacea might like to spread out into the woods and beside the stream. Butterfly bushes are volunteering in all sorts of places. It appears to be a perfect place for gold finches. The other night I pulled into the driveway to be greeted by a flock of the little gems. They allowed me to walk within a couple of feet of them before flitting up to a nearby tree. They love the echinacea seedheads.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

whoosh... both feet back on the ground

It is finally settling down to some form of normal around here. All the shop copies, writer copies, and orders that piled up have been sent, almost everything has been put back in its place from the trip, and the desktop is highly visable.
The last week has me thinking about how we view "the trip". A few years ago, my sweetie read me a poem called "The Station". Its about all the things that happen, all the things that fly past the window, all the living that takes place during the trip. I can't remember if the destination is even mentioned.
I've always tried to be in the moment, to enjoy what is. It isn't always easy. It is much easier to fall prey to worries, goals, and expectations.
The last week or so has really been a reminder to try to stay present. We laughed until we cried on the trip to Chicago. Most of the things that crack me up the most wouldn't mean anything to anyone else. In a lot of ways, the drive/ride was horrendous. If we had only looked at the destination it would have been 10 times harder. We had no choice but to enjoy the scenery, compare the rest stop offerings, and nudge each other on with silliness.
That's been my thought for today. Trite perhaps, but very much on my mind.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Chicago Area Soap and Candlemaker's Conference

We got back from the conference yesterday - a day later than we'd hoped. My camera batteries died on the way out, so I haven't added photos of the actual conference. It was a good time, with over 200 attendees. Great chance to meet many of the people I've been chatting with on forums and lists for years. We did a talk on adding herbs to soaps and toiletries, and it was well received. Soapers and candlemakers are a friendly bunch, and always fun to gather with.

The conference was held in Tinley Park - outside of Chicago. It was well put together, with lots of great vendors, eager participants, and demos, talks, and presenters. The goodie bags included tons of samples so that we have lots of new things to try. We got a chance to see many of the people we'd met in Ft. Wayne in June, and that was a bonus.

We've decided that flying would be the prudent choice in the future. On the way out, there was a bad accident on the Ohio turnpike. We lucked out and turned into a rest stop 20 miles back - just before the back-up reached the turn-off. Below is a picture of the picnic area outside of the rest stop, with people watching the line of stopped vehicles. Inside, the building was jammed with people sitting and playing cards, eating, talking on cell phones, and one guy who pulled out his guitar for an impromtu concert. It was hot and muggy outside, but too crowded inside for us. There were no more parking spaces available, and 3 hours later when we decided to join the 10mph crawl on the road, we saw guys pushing their out of gas car up the ramp.
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As we headed out, we watched the lovely sunset and crept towards the Indiana state line. I've always wondered about traffic tie ups like these. Now I know.
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The trip home was another example of why we'd fly in the future. Road work, agressive drivers, and exhaustion took its toll, and when a brutal storm hit, we decided to pack it in and get a hotel room.

There's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

into the mail, off to Chicago

So I was very clear with the printer, telling them that the magazine HAD to be done this morning. With the trip to Chicago for the Soap and Candle convention coming up at dawn tomorrow, the rock was oh-so-close to the hard place.
I woke and started pacing. The labels and paperwork were printed off and sorted into stacks beside the mail sacks that would later be filled with magazines. The phone didn't ring. When I couldn't stand it any longer, I called. Lo and behold, they were ready (note steam shooting out of ears), and I was probably there in 10 minutes.
It would be possible to have the addresses printed right onto the covers, but for now it's too expensive. I suspect that if the circulation continues to grow at the current rate it will only be a few more issues before it is no longer possible to do it by hand. The living room floor becomes the mail room, covered with stacks that need to be kept separate, tagged appropriately, banded and sacked. Working at fever pitch, the mailing got to the post office before they stopped accepting bulk mail at the end of the day. Whew!!!
So next on the list was/is packing for the conference. Things like business cards, display items and the like seem to be difficult to remember. Now the living room floor has become a staging area. Very versatile spot, this living room floor!
So now we're off on the next adventure with the new issue safely delivered to the P.O.
I'll let you know how it goes!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Herbal Harvest from Susan Evans

From the Sept/Oct 2003 issue of The Essential Herbal:

Herbal Harvest-Preserving Herbs for Winter Use

Autumn is here and the farmers markets and gardens are overflowing with the abundance of nature. This is the time of year when I carefully listen to the weather report to try to gauge when we will get our first killer frost, leaving the garden a veritable wasteland of frozen black plants. Before the cold carnage begins, get out there and collect your fall bounty. The best time to harvest your herbs is in the cool of the morning, ideally when they are dry. The midday heat encourages plants to release their essential oils, which you want as intact as possible. Normally it is wise not to harvest more than 1/3 of your plant, leaving plenty for later harvests. In the final fall cutting I usually leave a few inches of stems on my perennial herbs, the ones that return each spring, to provide a little winter coverage.

The annual herbs can be cut to the ground. If they need a wash, submerge them in a basin of cold water, swish gently and dry on cotton towels before bundling. To dry, fasten them in small bunches with a rubber band, include a strip of paper telling you what it is, and hang upside down in a cool, dry, place, out of direct sunlight.

Most herbs dry quite well this way, common exceptions being basil, cilantro, and chives. The next step is very important. When your herbs have dried, take them down and put them in a sealed container. Glass jars work great, but you can use Ziplocs. Label, date, and store in a cool, dark place. I know your herbs look really cool hanging around, but once they dry, they start to lose potency. There is something so discouraging about pulling a dusty, cobwebbed sage leaf out of your soup. It drives my mother crazy. Designate a few to leave up for aesthetics and package the rest.

Some things to consider: Until you are ready to use them, keep your herbs in as whole a form as possible. Rub the leaves off the woody stems before adding to dishes. If stored correctly, most herbs retain flavor until the next growing season and beyond. To determine viability look at color, beige is not a good sign, and rub some of the herb between your fingers. It should have some fragrance.

Herbs can be frozen also. Place loosely in bags, date and label. Basil will turn black so I always blend the fresh leaves with enough oil to make a paste and freeze it that way. Defrost, add Parmesan cheese and pine nuts, whip up in a food processor and Pesto!Another great way to store herbs is in herb vinegar. Just put the clean, fresh herb in a jar, cover completely with apple cider, rice or wine vinegar, let sit for a few weeks, strain, and you have yourself a very tasty, high mineral, designer vinegar.

There are many ways to use your harvest bounty. Seasonings and teas are obvious, but what about trying potpourri, designing an herbal wreath, cooking up an herbal salve or making a catnip toy for Kitty? You could also make some bath salts, herbal waters, or a soothing eye bag for naptime. The mind boggles at the possibilities. There are several good herb books out, complete with ideas and recipes. Three I really like are; Making Glorious Gifts From Your Garden by Marie Browning, Decorating with Herbs by Simon Lycett and anything by Phyllis V. Shaudys.

You didn't grow any herbs this year? No worries. You can buy them at farmers markets and grocery stores or pre-dried in bulk at natural food stores. Try making a ginger pear jam, or a lavender honey. Celebrate fall's bounty with your domestic creations.

Susan Evans is a Certified Clinical Herbalist and owner of Chrysalis Herbs. She provides classes on herbs, gardening and health.
Call 303-697-6060 or email @ chrysalisherbs@aol.com.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The End of an Era...

As summer stretches into the dog days, my daughter and nephew stumble along, blissfully unaware that their lifelong easy-going closeness is about to go through some big changes. They have been close friends ever since he learned how to make her stop crying years ago when she was only about 3 months old.  A wee boy of only about 5 himself, he would dance around, wearing all sorts of get-ups, and turn her tears into baby chuckles.  They delighted in their absolute acceptance of each other.  She's adored him in every way, admiring his wit, his brilliance, and his approach to life. He's loved her and protected her, giving her confidence and a feeling of safety.  I'll never forget the first Halloween, when a dog came jumping up on a screen door, and he quickly stepped in front of her, clearly giving no thought to his own safety at 6 or 7 years of age.  It's pretty much always been like that.  She's been very fortunate to have men in her life who are true gentlemen.
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I took this picture moments ago, as they were heading out the door for lunch somewhere.  I was thinking about what lies ahead.  He's heading off to study Astro Physics, and she's heading into her freshman year in high school.  Through the ups and downs of their nuclear familie's respective lives, these two have remained steadfast in their friendship for one another.  I wonder if they know how precious that is.  Both of them are onlies, and I so hope that they always keep that attachment.



So as I watched them walk out the door, I thought about this carefree day for them.  Studies, friends, adventures, jobs, and families lie ahead for both.  For today, they will have idealistic conversation about the state of the universe, they'll talk about things that mean a lot, and things that have little meaning... and they will take for granted that easy knowing and acceptance of each other.  May the years ahead always keep them in each other's heart.

Monday, August 08, 2005

a series of misadventures...

Did you ever have a day that was just a little askew? Just not quite as it should be? Well that was today for me.
It starts with the phone waking me at the late hour (for me) of shortly after 8. Considering that I am typically up by 6, this didn't bode well. The call was the printer... there was a problem with the files. Egads! Two and a half hours later, it appears that I gave them the wrong disk last week. Its a little foggy and I still can't figure out how that could have happened.
We proceed through the day with vaguely unsettling news, visits, and emails. Nothing to really put one's finger on, just a growing sense of anxiety.
The bright spot was taking the new freshman for her school supplies. It was fun shopping for new binders, pens, folders, and all that cool paper stuff. Also amusing - as when she told me that she was a little concerned that the backpack she'd purchased over the weekend might scream, "freshman". Ah yes, a short stroll down memory lane, to where every decision is a land mine.
The day ends with us turning into a restaurant for dinner, only to find that they've closed. Perfect. Just perfect.
The good news is that we made it through the day. There's a good book waiting for me, and tomorrow most certainly will be another day - possibly much better.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

another issue goes to print

The Sept/October issue of The Essential Herbal went to the printer's today. I was in a huge hurry to complete it, since it absolutely MUST be in the mail before we head out for the Chicago Area Soap and Candle convention on Friday.
This one had me banging my head on the desk, with many, many photos sent in by contributors, and lots of different types of submissions. BUT, it is without a doubt the best ever. I know, I know, I say that all the time, but this time (ha ha ha) I really mean it. Each one really is better than the last, and each one amazes me. Image hosted by Photobucket.com
We had several readers who sent highlights from their summers. We also put together a great article from the Yahoo list, where we all talked about our favorite herbs. There's a wonderful article on Bee Skeps, another on Saffron, one on making medicinal cordials, blending teas, and making wreaths. And then there are terrific recipes scattered throughout. Surely I'm missing some of the articles, because it is just so jammed. Oh yeah, making potpourris.... Oh, and lots on sage.
More than anything, I realized while putting it together that we have created a community of sharing. The information flows in, and my function is simply to arrange it. What a great job!

Monday, August 01, 2005

Am I Jaded?

This weekend was a little "off". There were a couple events that I was looking forward to that just didn't hit the mark.
The first one was a local arts and crafts festival that is in it's 59th year. I haven't been able to make it for the last 15 years - the first 10 because of our own shop hours, the last five because of work, etc. So I was excited to go. There were always really fanciful pieces, cutting edge crafts, new and exciting ideas. In the past I'd purchased stained glass, pottery, wearable art, and unique jewelry. This time it was not the same.
There were only about 1/4 as many vendors. There was nothing exciting, nothing I couldn't live without. I bought a leather bag, but it isn't unusual...just sturdy and handmade. There were a couple potters with great stuff. One used glazes that were gorgeous, and another pressed leaves into the pieces - very Autumnal. Some of the clothing was interesting, but nobody was taking any risks. I think that was what I felt the most - no risks.
Next came Shakespeare in the Park. It was Love's Labor Lost, and Theatre of the Seventh Sister was putting it on - for free, I might add. They did a great job, and I enjoyed what I could follow. But the park was a bad setting. That play is hard enough to follow without people riding between rows on bicycles, chasing frisbees, walking dogs, and talking on cellphones next to you. Once it got dark it was easier to concentrate, but it was too late. The performers were fighting a losing battle.
On the plus side, I got to finish Harry Potter. I'm not going to ruin it for anyone, but I'm stunned. It can't be true!!! Can't wait for the next book to come out.
Reading Potter made me think about how much I've missed reading fiction lately. Mostly I read fieldguides, herbal tomes, and reference books. So I finally started a book that a friend sent me months ago - Wicked - The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. Wow! Its hard to put this one down. I've been listening to the music from the Broadway show for a while now, and reading the book just makes the music better.
It's time to start putting the next issue of the magazine together. Well, actually it's almost done except for the formatting and adding pictures. Having that book waiting will make it go fast :-).

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