Monday, October 31, 2005

the many floors of a hospital

Over the years, I've spent lots of time in hospitals. We have a fairly large family, and that tends to mean that occasionally someone gets sick.
In March, it was Mom. That was a particularly nasty stint. We spent the better part of three days in the neuro-intensive care area before she left us. My ex brother in law was there at the same time, but although he was there for months he eventually got out.
On Friday our brother went into the same hospital via ambulance. I will spare you the gory details. He was in very bad shape having lost about 1/2 of the blood in his body. We spent most of the morning in the ER waiting for him to go on to testing.
Eventually we went up to the second floor to wait while he had some endoscopic procedure done. We waited in the same place we sat while Mom was there. It was hard. I kept thinking that if I walked down the hall, she'd still be there.
From there we went to the 6th floor where he was in Intermediate Intensive Care for the next day or two (its starting to blur). This morning he moved to the 7th floor in a semi-private room.
We got there this morning to find him fully dressed and ready to go. Not that the doctor had released him, mind you..... His roomie was very much the PA Dutch man, speaking loudly and constantly in the accent we've come to recognize. I can't blame my brother for being annoyed by that...it was relentless until the man fell asleep, snoring loudly.
BUT... he was terribly disoriented. For a while there it looked like he might be released. Luckily that was not the case. There's been a new ominous development. He's pretty unhappy with my sister and me, but at least he's alive and safe...especially since we took his clothes, shoes, wallet and keys. I wonder where he'll be when we get there in the morning.
When we were all younger I didn't mind the hospital so much. We went to the hospital for things like tonsils and wisdom teeth. Sometimes there would be a baby. Sometimes it was unpleasant, but always we came out in better health than we went in. We'd sit either in the waiting rooms or close together in chairs right in the room, talking quietly while our loved one slept nearby. I've even enjoyed going down to the cafeteria with a sibling or two to grab a bite and share some gallows humor.
When Mom died, we were suddenly catapulted into the next level. We are more fragile and our bumps and bruises are more serious these days. Having my brother so sick makes me feel very vulnerable. We are "the gang". Nobody's allowed to leave yet.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The frost is on the pumpkin....

We had our first frost of the season last night.  Its a few weeks late for our area, and considering that daylight savings time is over in a few days, we might as well get into the darkness and get it over with.  I've got several pounds of dried elderberries all ready to be tinctured or made into the cordial we've been talking about on the Yahoo list.  Molly came home from school with a deep cough, so it's lucky we have some tincture left over from last year's batch.
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Halloween is almost here.  In Pagan traditions it is generally a time to honor those who have passed before us, to remember loved ones, and to grieve and love, and let it go.  This has been a year that included loss for me, so I will be thinking of my mother on Halloween, and remembering who she was.  I think about her every day, but it will be nice to have a day to devote to it.  The leaves have turned colors and are beginning to swirl with the slightest breeze.  I saw a signature line today that said, "Autumn - a time when every leaf is a bloom".  Its interesting to me that this season is such a metaphor for itself.  The rushing winds, the fading sun, the brisk chill in the air are so reflective of the way we conduct ourselves.  We scurry around preparing for the holidays to come, and burrow into our homes early in the evening. 
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On a lighter note, this is a shot of the very beginning of our space in the shop in Lititz where we'll be displaying our things.  The most recently created products aren't there yet, nor the basket of soap balls, the bayleaf garlands, or the spice clay ornaments cut in tiny gingerbread men, stars, and candy cane shapes.  The shop is a co-op of crafters and antiquers, and Lititz is a tourist destination.  Right across the street is the Wilbur chocolate company.  So now, everytime we go to restock we'll have to stop across the street and see about some Wilbur buds.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

An Herbal Halloween

Right now the weather is ugly. It has me going back in time, to other Autumns, other Halloweens, and the deep blue skies, crisp breezes, and fluffy clouds. I was thinking today about the first time I ever planted saffron bulbs. I forgot about them soon afterwards, and was stunned to find the crocuses bloomin on Halloween a month or so later. I pulled this article from the Sept/Oct 2004 issue of The Essential Herbal:

An Herbal Halloween
Michele Brown,
Possum Creek Herb Farm
www.possumcreekherb.com

Think of Halloween and what comes to mind? Jack O’ Lanterns, black cats, witches riding their brooms across a moonlit sky, bats? Not too far-fetched actually. Many traditions that we use to celebrate the autumn holiday come from superstitions and the medieval use of herbs and charms to ward off evil spirits used for centuries.

So, pull up the quilt, turn on the light, bolt the door and read on…

Centuries ago, the village herbalist would often brew up a concoction to provide relief from whatever disease happened to be plaguing the folk at that time. However, as time passed and as other religious beliefs took over, the lowly herbalist was forced to hide her gardens and her tools of trade. Witches they were called back then and for many who were caught they often were punished for creating what was thought to be dangerous or even accused of calling upon the devil himself while dancing around their cauldrons. What we have found about these women and men who tried their best to take care of those folks who came begging for help is that many herbs and plants were most beneficial in healing or repelling diseases or the cause of the disease.

Juniper, rosemary and thyme were hung at each doorway of the village homes to rid the house of vermin. Today we find that the antiseptic properties of these herbs help repel mice, ants and other little critters that want to make our home their home. The twigs of Ash, Willow, Hazel and Elder were reported to be protection against snakes and warts. Apparently no snake worth his skin would cross a line drawn with an ash twig. Even today the juice from the Hazel twig is helpful as an antiseptic for wounds, warts, bruises and bumps. Of course, we call it Witch Hazel. Mugwort, of the Artemisia family, offered protection from evil spirits, lightning and bad fortune. It was placed under the bed, in the shoe, or sown in a dress hem to be carried everywhere. Mandrake, considered a powerful aphrodisiac, was said to shriek loudly as it was being harvested. And then there is good old common parsley. Believe it or not, legend has it that parsley was the devil’s special favorite. And apparently only the wicked and bewitched can grow it. Uh oh….

But there were some herbs of saving grace back in medieval times. Rue stood for repentance and was an antidote against poisons. Rosemary grew in the gardens of the righteous. A symbol of faithfulness, love and purity, it kept away bad dreams. A bountiful sage plant growing in the garden meant prosperity and good health to the household. St. John’s Wort was used as a protection from illness and made one think they were invincible when going into battle and Yarrow banished all fears.

A legend that began many years ago which has thankfully gone by the wayside was that giving of a cutting or a start of a plant was considered unlucky and it was thought unlikely that the plant would ever grow. Friends refused to offer a cutting and often turned their backs so the other could “steal” a piece from the desired plant. What work that would be today.
So, enjoy the full autumn moon in your herb garden. Carry a little rosemary, mugwort, garlic, sage and thyme in your pocket and whistle a little tune. Just because...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Ones That Got Away

You should see the pictures I took today! It was one of those incredible autumn days where the trees are ablaze and the sky is so blue it makes your heart soar. We had some deliveries to take down to the Amish country, so while waiting for my accomplice, I snapped a few shots of caterpillars munching happily on bronze fennel. It seems late for them, so I didn't want to miss that! And then there was the single perfect cabbage rose in a pink blush. Surely the last of the season. I climbed over the garden to get that one.
We headed out, and our countryside is so picturesque this time of year! The farmers are out baling up the hay and silage. The corn has been mostly harvested, so the neat-as-a-pin farms are settled in the valleys like paintings. As we passed an Amish school, the children were outside playing at recess, and the old stone mills were just gleaming in their ancient glory. All along, I snapped happily away, thinking of all the wonderful pictures I'd have to share.
At just about that point, someone - who shall remain nameless - but her initials are "my sister" mentioned that she hadn't given back the memory card for my camera that she'd borrowed earlier. Oh well, they would have been great :-).

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Spice Clay, Simmering Potpourri, and ....

We've been working on a few products for the holidays, mostly for the shop at Frog Hollow.  The are also up on the website under "Fun Stuff" at The Essential Herbal.
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The first is a blend of spices to make spice clay ornaments or to use when making pomanders.  All you need for the ornaments is a cup of applesauce.  For the pomanders, you need whole cloves and a thin skinned citrus fruit.  The spices are used to roll the pomander in while it dries.  This mix is something we use nearly every year around here.
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Our favorite blend for simmering potpourri is the next product.  It makes the whole house smell exactly like you always thought the perfect holiday house would smell like.  Baking pies and cookies with just a hint of orange. 
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And then there is Rudolph's Revenge - for the naughty one at your house.  Heh, heh, heh.

Monday, October 17, 2005

clay ornaments, and walking around

The idea of pressing plants into polymer clay for tree ornaments has been rattling around in my head lately, and today was the day.  They are prettier than they appear here, and the ribbon added a nice touch.
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I used rosemary on the bottom pink one, lavender on the top blue one, ragweed on the top pink one, and the rest are all juniper sprigs.  First I had to go GET the juniper and the ragweed.  I went out to the same meadow I took pictures of in May.  Back then, I couldn't have gotten near to the juniper - between the ticks and the underbrush, but today it was nearly flat.  Must be the dryness of the summer, because I've never been able to walk so easily through this particular area.
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The juniper was just loaded with berries.  They are just barely getting a tinge of blue, still mostly green.  Behind this tree was a grove of staghorn sumac also loaded with the large red stalks of berries.
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The milkweed pods are ripening and the fluffy seeds will soon burst from the pods and go flying in the wind.
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The rosehips were bright red and the boughs were full.  Soon the birds and deer will take care of that.  You can see the sky in the background, and today was another perfect autumn day - gusty and cool.  Besides working on the ornaments, I also boiled the tallow from the bayberries we gathered a couple weeks ago.  Turns out the local berries aren't nearly as fragrant as the Delaware berries.  Must be the sea air!  Also got the desk pretty well cleared so that tomorrow is open to work on some new products for the holidays.  They'll be up on the website and in the Frog Hollow Holiday shop before you know it.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

renaissance faire - visiting old friends

My sister was gifted with a couple comp tickets for the renaissance festival where we honed our "herb lady" skills. This was where we became the Twisted Sisters. 10 years later, we were still greeted as The Twisted Sisters! But I digress. Our friend Laura who owns a jewelry shop at the fair sent us tickets, and we grabbed Molly and set out on this cool blustery Autumn day. We were very happy that the Queen who'd been there when we were there - the delightfully effervescent Kate Ramsey was again Queen this year. As a wee nipperkin, Molly used to accompany her in various roles. Molly's favorite year was the first year Kate was a gypsy. Kate had been given doctor's orders to remain mute for 6 weeks, so she and Molly did some sort of sign language, running about the shire snitching shiny things and playing. It was so much fun for her. It was wonderful to see her again.
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One of the things that really bothered us was all the anachronistic crap we saw. When we were there, the faire was very authentic. We were not allowed watches, spoke always in dialect, and the management was very strict. Today we saw employees wearing (gasp!!!) sneakers, and even worse, one of the acts announced a sport score during a show. It was sad. Below you will see members of the cast wearing wings. Oh Please!
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At the Mud Show - where the Mud Beggars really get to show their stuff - there were some specialized souveniers. T-shirts were available saying "A Higher Level of Stupid" and "Got Milk", but my favorite item were these stickers.
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The ubiquitous ovals with initials standing for destinations are on everyone's car these days. One of my friends and I often discuss the need to get out of the mud when we are feeling less than on top of the world, and I just loved these stickers.
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Our friend Mark Shira is still potting and making incredible mugs and chalices from clay. He is never less than hilarious, always over the top, and great fun to visit with. We met him our first year when he made the unusual request of wolfbane - for his wedding. Hmmmm. We also visited with Judy Johnson at the crossroad, and her shop overflowed with incredibly beautiful stuff.... bird baths, garden sculpture, and unique, gorgeous "stuff". We saw Mark the Jester, Val the Rock Vixen, and Lanky Hemptwister. Most of our friends are gone, however.
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And then.... the band that would have made it all worthwhile even if we had payed to get in. Corvus Corax was making their US debut from Germany. OMG are they ever HOT! Its hard to describe their music, but it is medieval songs, played on handmade instruments the likes of which I've never seen. They were all researched and reconstructed. Belly dancers were everywhere, and the percussion was incredible. Something like bagpipes - but not quite, and lots of vocals in various languages. The music was great, but the presentation was so cool. They were all wearing some sort of loincloths beneath long brocade coats with these genie type boots (curled toes) that were huge and had very thick soles - making them very tall and very lean looking. It was like Kiss in the 1500's. www.corvuscorax.de is their website. We got their Cd and played it on the way home - causing Molly to shake her head while Maryanne and I danced and shimmied in our seats. They were awesome!

We figure once every 5 or 10 years is plenty, but it was good to see our friends - and to see how very right we were to leave when we did.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Praying Mantis at the door

This afternoon as I left the soap studio at my sister's, I noticed this beauty on the doorstep.  The picture is actually turned upside-down because it was sort of lying on it's side :-(.  It was cold and rainy, and it seemed to be napping peacefully.  They are the most unusual looking bugs around here, and I could watch them for hours.... well, not this one, because it was...um.... asleep, but when they climb up the window, or a plant stalk.
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We set up a space in a craft mall in Lititz today, next door to a bead shop, and across the street from.... drumroll please.... Wilbur Chocolate Company.  The smell of that chocolate on the street is intoxicating.  You can almost taste it.  When we were kids, our grandfather took us to a little park in Lititz to play and feed the giant golden carp and trout that swam in the pond there.  I didn't know at the time that a chocolate factory was SO CLOSE, and never tasted Wilbur Buds until I was about 30.  They are soooo good.  Anyhow, we set up there and are hoping it goes well.  Then we returned to the studio to resume work on our top secret holiday product.  Last week we came up with Road Apple soap.  Want to see?  Its the first item under "shop for products" on the website - www.essentialherbal.com .

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

today's lessons - Incense class and Trimming Soap

This evening I gave a small class on making incense.  We made cones, logs, and odd shapes from scratch.  The recipe called for sandalwood, lavender, frankincense, and various other ingredients.  It has been a while since I've given this class in person, having done an on-line class at Forum'ulations for Beta recently.  I'd forgotten how great the ingredients smell while they are being worked into a clay and smooshed into shapes.
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I'd also forgotten how a little powder becomes a whole lot of clay to work with.  Jody and Sarah are putting the finishing touches on their batches.  Sarah came up the original idea of making tiny bowls that she plans to drop essential oil into just prior to burning.  Each time I give this class, there is another innovation.  The conversation is always great at classes that involve handwork.  It was fun!



Then there is the indoctrination of the previously (way back) mentioned elves to help with all the soap trimming over at Maryanne's business - Lancaster County Soaps.  Molly is coming along nicely, even managing to enjoy the work.  I believe, however, that it might have something to do with hearing tales of her mother's youth from her aunt.  We'll have to do something about that.....
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It's nice to have her take an interest in some of the things I love to do.  Maybe there is hope after all :-).

Monday, October 10, 2005

Pumpkin Recipe with a Twist

We're still busy running around like wild women here, so I'm posting a recipe and article from Stephen Lee that was published in the Spt/Oct 2002 issue.

Fallin For Pumpkin .... a vegetable love story with a fairy tale ending

Charlie Brown, long of comic strip fame, is still looking for his Great Pumpkin, but thankfully I've found mine. Forget all those giant squash - like the 163 pounder that won the blue ribbon at last year's Kentucky State Fair and even those well-scrutinized and hand-picked globes gathered by families for their youngsters artfully carving into scary Halloween faces. My pumpkin, indeed "the" pumpkin of choice for any knowledgeable cook, is the pie or sugar variety - small, succulent and tender, perfect for any recipe.
Pumpkins, a member of the gourd family, along with watermelons and butternut squash, are so underutilized. The orange wonders are good for so much more than jack o'lanterns and those ubiquitous pies served at holiday time. Occasionally when making a beef stew, I'll simply substitute chunks of pared pumpkin for some or all of the potatoes called for in the recipe. Everyone loves the "gourmet" difference that exchange makes. One of my favorite methods is to simply steam chunks of pumpkin over two cups of vegetable broth. When the pumpkin is tender, I press it through a ricer, mix in just enough of the vegetable broth to make a moist mash, season with a snip or two of fresh chives and use the results as a heart-healthy side dish suitable for most any meal.
Smart cooks choose pumpkins that are free from blemishes and heavy for their size, just a little over one and a half pounds is perfect. You can keep whole pumpkins for about a month at room temperature and about 3 months if refrigerated; however, if you begin to use pumpkin the way I do you won't have to worry much about storing them - they'll be used up in a flash.
To help you take that leap into fun pumpkin cookery I'm offering one of my most favorite recipes. You might be tempted to reserve this effort for a special occasion, I have vegetarian friends who use it as their Thanksgiving dinner; but I encourage you to find the time (and soon) to put this tasty dish before your family and friends. You'll find the presentation magical and the results worthy of that fairy tale ending..... and they all ate happily ever after.

Cinderella's Lasagna in a Pumpkin Coach

10 6" diameter pumpkins - pie or sugar
2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup butter, unsalted
1 large onion, yellow - sliced thin
2 Tbsp. Tarragon, fresh - minced
1 Tbsp. brown sugar, dark
2 cups Almonds, toasted - chopped fine
2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. white pepper - freshly ground
24 5" x 5" sheets pasta, fresh or equivalent lasagna noodles
1 cup bread crumbs - dry
1 cup Parmesan cheese - freshly grated
1 cup Ricotta cheese

Cut tops off of pumpkins and reserve. Scrape and discard the seeds and strings from the pumpkin interiors. Place pumpkins with tops laying aside on a greased, parchment-lined baking sheet and roast, in a preheated 350 degree oven for about an hour just until the pumpkin meat becomes tender. Remove pumpkins from oven and let rest until cool enough to handle.
Remove all the pumpkin meat from 4 of the pumpkins, reserving to a bowl, and discard the shells. Remove and reserve most of the meat from the remaining pumpkins, leaving just enough to allow the pumpkins to hold their shape. Puree the pumpkin meat in a food processor with the vegetable broth and reserve.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add the onions and cook for 3 minutes, then add the tarragon and brown sugar, and cook for 2 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add the pumpkin puree, mix well and bring to a boil. Remove from heat; add the almonds and season with salt and pepper.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the pasta sheets or lasagna noodles and cook just until al dente. Drain and put a little of the pumpkin sauce over the pasta to keep them from sticking together.
To assemble: Place a pasta sheet into the bottom of each pumpkin, cover with a few spoons of the sauce and a sprinkling of bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. Top with a little of the ricotta cheese. Continue with this layering in the same fashion finishing with a top of ricotta cheese. Choose the 6 nicest roasted pumpkin tops and place one back onto each pumpkin, discarding the rest.
Place pumpkins onto a lightly greased, parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.
Remove the pumpkins from the oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Nov/Dec Issue Went to Print

It has been a busy week or so around here. The next issue took my attention for a while. Can I just say that I don't know how the big guys do it. It is really tough to get into the holiday spirit while enjoying 80 degree, blue skied, breezy days.
Nevertheless, the holiday issue shines once again - always a fun piece to put together. There were two different articles on the herbs of the season. Mary Ellen Wilcox focused more on the more recent 2000 years or so, while Jeanne Rose wrote from a Druidic view. We had a great article from India, talking about the 10 most used herbs for cooking, and their traditional/tribal medicinal uses. There were lots of great recipes, and articles on relaxation, digestion, cranberries, sage, tea, and more.
We've also been helping Nancy Reppert from Sweet Remembrances in Mechanicsburg format a cookbook that should be going to press and ready in time for the holidays. Typing in those recipes was very tempting, and I may have actually gained a few pounds.
In the next few days the printer will call and we'll start the mailing procedure.

Monday, October 03, 2005

fragrant herbal beads and incense kits

We have an herbal bead kit, which includes an small instruction book and a couple packets of "just add water" herb mixture. I bring this up because they've been selling like hotcakes on the web site for $9.95 plus shipping, and with the holidays coming - and the herbs reaching full maturity it seemed like something that might be of interest. Oh, and there's another kit... the incense making kit. Same thing, with the instruction book and the "just add water" packets. This way you can make them immediately and then take your time to put together your own blends using the instructions in the booklet.
Available at The Essential Herbal
This concludes the commercial portion of this blog :-).

Pumpkin Mushroom Stuffing

I have to share this one. It's sooooo good. Maggie from www.prairielandherbs.com sent it in for last year's holiday issue of the mag. It was a first place winner at the Iowa State Fair.
Pumpkin Mushroom Stuffing
6 cups cubed pumpkin bread
1 cup butter
1 cup chopped celery
2 cups chopped red onion
1 cup sliced mushrooms (portabella, cremini, portini, or a mix)
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 or 1/2 cup chicken (or veggie) broth
Optional - chopped toasted pecans (optional - HAH!)

Spread bread cubes on a baking sheet and let dry overnight, or heat in a 200 degree oven until dry. Preheat oven to 375 and butter a 2 quart baking dish.
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Saute celery and onions for about 10 minutes. Add mushrooms, and continue cooking for about 8 minutes or until tender. Add fresh herbs, salt, and pepper.
Fold in bread cubes, and add enough broth to moisten. Transfer to prepared dish and cover with foil.Bake for 40 minutes. Remove cover and bake 10 minutes, or until top is crisp. Garnish with fresh herbs and pecans.
*** Maggie's note (and I heartily agree) - even though the recipe lists the pecans as optional, we highly recommend adding them, and personally think this recipe is even better with the pecans mixed in before baking so they are evenly dispersed through the stuffing.

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