Monday, December 29, 2008

Slackin on the Blog

Ok, I'll admit it.
It feels like I've been slacking on the blog.
My head is all over the place.
Nevermind that I did however many entries earlier in the month. Could it really have been 21? And they all actually required thought? Wow.

Today my mind has been almost on fire with possibilities. I have some really great (imho) ideas for the next few months. Sometimes it feels like there's nothing going on upstairs, and other days I wish I had my mini recorder in my pocket. Back in the days of the shop, the old brain fired constantly and ideas came so fast and thick that we both carried notepads everywhere.

And I have to really wonder. Did that crappy shopping cart have me feeling defeated???

Like for instance, I just listed some stuff on ArtFire.com. You can list original art, books, magazines, etc there. Normally I would think, "eh... that's for artisans". Right now? I'm all in!
2009 is going to be a challenging year.
Those of us operating small businesses will need to be on top of our games.

We will need to seek out opportunities and be willing to play along.
I have my sneakers on. I'm ready. It might even be fun!
It might be time to put heads together with some other herb-type businesses and see what we can accomplish as a group. There are lots of businesses on the Yahoo group for the magazine (where we talk about all aspects of herbs - including business), and if you're looking for such a group, join us.
In this economy, it is not a good time to be out there alone.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

She's so happy now.

I've been many things this weekend. It was moving time for the site and cart. It went well, I suppose, compared to some. For me, it is frightening from the first key-stroke and it doesn't get better until everything is perfect again. An entire business is effectively whittled down to fit on to a zip stick. That is very sobering.
On Friday, when things were going wrong, I was a raging she-bear. It was loud and messy, and I hate when I act that way. It's the fear.
Later, Saturday morning after a little sleep, I was plucky and willing to try different things to accomplish what was needed.
But in the afternoon when it appeared that all was for naught, I dissolved into a puddle. A hungry puddle, that felt much better after getting the first food of the day around 4 pm.
Finally around 10 or 11 (it is all a blur) everything fell into place.
In that whole 36 hours, the only thing that I did or thought about was getting that site and cart finished. And a little sleep. Oh.. and there was that hour or so when we marveled over the earthquake.

Then there was a whole AOL fiasco, but that's passed too. I'm happy.

But let me tell you why I am so happy.
For nearly a year, I've been limping along with a shopping cart that was unacceptable.
How bad, you ask? People wrote JUST to tell us how bad the cart was!
This cart did not have a comments section, so they had to email.
Payment methods were so complicated that (because I could see how many abandoned shopping carts there were) a good 15% to 20% of shoppers gave up, choosing not to keep trying.
Or worse (not for me, but for them), they would write and ask me to help them subscribe.
Figuring shipping was a nightmare. Oh, all of these things could have been fixed - if I had been willing (and capable enough with computer skills) to purchase "plug ins". $40 for this one, $50 for that, and another $100 there... Then of course finding someone who knew how to do whatever it is that needs to be done to make them work. It ain't me, babe.
There is no doubt in my mind that cart hurt our business. I could go on and on. It was bad - and it was not inexpensive either. I won't name them here, but write me if you're about to go with a cart that rhymes with Eva. K?
So if you're one of those people who wrote out of frustration, who accidentally ordered 3 of anything and couldn't get it out of the cart (and then had to write a frantic email), who couldn't figure out how to make it say Visa instead of MC, or who just had to tell us how pathetic the cart was, believe me, we heard you. It just took a little while to pull ourselves together from the last move and get up the guts to do it again.

The new cart was a dream to set up! Would you like to have a shipping base charge? No, but thanks for asking! Would you like to ask your customers questions before they go? Really? YES! How bout a simple dropdown with a few pages of clear, illustrated help? Ok!

I am confident that it will be a much more pleasant experience for our shoppers.

And she tapped her heels together 3 times and whispered to herself, "there's no place like home, there's no place like home".

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Still working on the site...

I need to go to my quiet, happy place.
This is that place. Sigh. There is something so evil about moving a website. It was horrible last year, and it is torturous this year. IF we get this accomplished, I hope to never move it again. Ever.

Notice - Website Maintenance

I'm very excited to be getting rid of the world's lousiest shopping cart and putting a nice shiny workable cart on to The Essential Herbal site today.
However, that means that the shop and site are down for maintenance today.
If you would like to place an order, please go to our sister site. Those orders will be included in the contest too.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Herbal Holiday Gift Series #21 - Dropping the Ball

Ah, I'll bet you thought I was forgetting about #21, didn't you?
The truth is, in the hustle and bustle of rushing around to make sure you haven't hurt anyone's feelings or started some kind of world war in the imagination of the in-laws, we ALL forget #21. There is always that slightly sick feeling at the very end, when you realize that someone you care very much about slipped between the cracks. Let's say that all you've got right now is what's in the house or at the closest chain drugstore. What then?
It never happens with the people at the fringe of your caring. It is always one of the most important, because they are the hardest. My circle of loved ones are almost all "the hardest". Excluding my daughter who is an absolute joy because she is so easy to buy for, everyone else is difficult. Half of them get whatever they want for themselves the second it dawns on them that they want it, while the other half is trying to get "things" out of their lives.
Besides that, for 2008, our family decided to go with a January holiday... somewhere in the middle of the month. It's a lot like the story of the cobbler's kids having no shoes. We do the tree farm and shop up here during the last 6 weeks leading up to Christmas, and when it finally got here this year we just didn't have the strength. Add that to a sick family member, and POOF! you have something resembling Festivus only in January, without the "airing of grievances" or the fighting. Oh, and no alcohol.

Here are some quick ideas:

Make a batch of fudge using the recipe Rachel Ray used last year - melt a bag of chocolate chips, a stick of butter, and stir in a can of sweetened condensed milk. Pour into a buttered baking dish (mold) and chill until firm. Cut into pieces and serve (or wrap).

A coupon for Herbal Home Spa for recipient and x# of friends. This could be herbal steams, facials made with things like honey, yogurt, oatmeal, almonds, chamomile, avocado.... and then make toners using vinegars and hydrosols.

For the commuter - a card from the nearest gas station. They can gas up and grab a Joe to Go - on you.

If you happen to have a lot of dried lavender around, it makes a wonderful gift - as is! It can be used as potpourri, as a dryer sachet ingredient, as a carpet freshener, or for cooking and tea.

We have a bulk food store very near-by, and the nuts and candies are always good gifts.

What herbal project do you love to play around with? Do you have the things required so that you could make a kit for someone else to give it a whirl on their own? Better yet, offer to give them a personal class along with the kit.

And you know, I just have to say it... it is NEVER too late for a subscription to The Essential Herbal.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Contest - have yourself a Merry Little Christmas!

Between Dec 15 and midnight on New Year's Eve, we're having a little fun over at The Essential Herbal, and thought you might want to know about it.

Everyone placing an order for $10 or more worth of merchandise (excluding shipping) will be entered into a drawing. There will be 5 winners.
The prizes include:
4 ounces of TEH farm distilled lavender distillate...
A package of 10 teabags of hand blended herbal tea (by yours truly)...
A lavender wand, happily woven on the back deck here on the farm...
3 delightful soaps - also made here on the farm...
3 lip balms - another farm-made prize!

So, if you've been holding out on yourself and thinking that eventually you will get yourself something nice, NOW is the time.
Good luck, everyone! We'll contact you by email and announce it here on New Year's Day.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Herbal Holiday Gift Series #20 - Pet Gifts

BIRDSEED CAKES
Combine 1 oz unflavored gelatin and ¼ cup water in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved and add 1 1/4 cups of any combination of seeds the birds in your area enjoy. Mix until all seeds are coated. Pack the mix firmly into molds the shape of wreaths, hearts, etc. Large cookie cutters work well. (I used ones in the shape of cats and squirrels!) Don’t forget to make a hole to add a hanger; straws or wooden skewers work well.

DOG BISCUITS
2 Tbsp margarine, lard or bacon fat, softened
1 tsp brown sugar
1 egg, slightly beaten
½ cup dry milk powder
½ cup chicken broth
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup wheat germ
½ tsp salt
8 large cloves of garlic, crushed
Cream margarine and brown sugar in mixer bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, dry milk and broth. Add flours, wheat germ and salt; knead until soft dough forms. Shape into a ball. Let stand, covered, for 30 minutes. Roll ¼ inch thick on lightly floured surface. Sprinkle with garlic; pat lightly into dough. Cut with 3-inch bone-shaped cookie cutter. Place on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 325F for 30 minutes or until browned and crisp. Cool on wire rack. Store in airtight containers. (Along the Garden Path)

For cats: TIGGER'S TOMATO AND TURKEY JERKY
1 lb ground turkey
2 Tbsp tomato paste
½ tsp garlic powder
2 tsp brewer’s yeast

Preheat oven to 120F or the lowest setting. Combine all the ingredients and mix well. Line a jelly roll pan with foil and spread the meat mixture in it. Using your hands flatten the mixture to about ¼” thick. Place the meat in the oven and prop the oven door open a crack using a wooden spoon, so the moisture can escape. Bake for about 2 hours, until the meat is quite dry. Remove the meat from the oven and place another sheet foil over it. Grasping both sheets of foil, flip the meat over and peel the foil from the top. Place the meat back in the oven with the door propped open, and bake for another 1-2 hours. The meat will be red and dry, like jerky. (Cat Nips! Feline cuisine)

Holiday Herbal Gift Series #19 - I'm cheating today

I found a great source for instructions for 3 items that can be made just a day or two prior to the big gift day, and they'll be ready. You can learn to make Bath Bombs, Sugar Scrubs, and Glycerin Soap

I need to cheat today and use someone else's instructions. It isn't because we're in the middle of a big holiday rush here. It isn't because I'm too busy baking cookies or wrapping gifts... in fact our family has decided to celebrate sometime next month. The pressure was making us crazy, and other than the fact that solstice is on an exact date and time, everything else is pretty much a made up, arbitrarily chosen date. We'll just choose our own this year.

Our brother is in the hospital. Right now, he probably has some medical staffer in his room laughing. That is his goal these days, to make the people taking care of him laugh. It's as close to control as he can get right now.

Last year about this time, my brother who is afflicted with liver disease moved into the family commune. He lives in my house. It was not a pleasant adjustment for either one of us. We'd both been living on our own for years and didn't want to make room for anyone else. However, it needed to be. We've been able to find a delicate balance that allows us both to feel like we have our own homes and some privacy.

He's on a liver transplant list and needs to be looked after. He hates to admit that, but knows it to be true.

In Chinese medicine, the liver is the seat of health. It stands to reason then that a sick liver is a very bad thing. Let me witness that. It is a very bad thing. The number of ailments that spring from a sick liver are astounding, and it reminds me of when we were little, trying to build dams over the creeks near the house with sticks and rocks... how the water always got through and we'd patch and patch, and it would still get through.
Everything is affected by the health of the liver. No matter how many patches we make, something new keeps coming up and making him sicker.

Of course, on the transplant list you lead a double wish-life. On the one hand, it is horrible to watch a loved one continue to get sicker, but on the other you know that he won't get a transplant (at least with the liver) until he reaches a certain level of illness. And in between all of that, there is also the knowledge that perhaps there will be no liver and perhaps he will be too sick to receive it if they find one.

This year I've watched my brother withstand some things that none of us ever thought people would or should survive, and keep going with a smile on his face and optimism in his heart. He is the eternal optimist. Not having his stomach tapped of fluid several times, nor an infection of that fluid, nor gigantic hernias, nor renal failure, nor pneumonia, nor nosebleeds, nor rashes, nor encephalopathy can keep him down. Not giving up driving nor his beloved Harley stops him. He makes me laugh every single day. Sometimes he doesn't intend to make me laugh, it just happens.

A year ago I resented the hell out of this man in my living space. Right now, I think he's my hero. He's taught me an awful lot this year. I hope Santa will bring him a shiny new liver. If not Santa, we can hold out for the Easter Bunny...or if there's a Tooth Fairy, maybe there's a Liver Fairy too!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Holiday Herbal Gift Series #18 - Spice Necklace

Pictured below is actually a small garland I made for a little tree. The same sort of thing can be done to make a wonderfully fragrant necklace that is fun to make and fun to wear. Sniffing around the internet prior to posting this entry, I saw that there are people making necklaces using whole cloves, and threading them longways, meaning that they are flower buds and are sort of like dried tubes. They looked very cool, but I've never done them myself. You can find instructions and pictures HERE To make a spice necklace the first thing to do is gather the spices. Some of my favorites include:
Rosehips
Cardamom
Juniper Berry
Star Anice
Allspice
Cinnamon pieces
Hawthorn Berry
Vanilla Bean
Ginger Root
Clove

Most designs generally use the star anise as a sort of pendant in the center. You may want to draw out a design or pattern before beginning. I fly by the seat of my pants, but acknowledge that most people do not.
Remember that the portion of necklace that will be against the back of the neck should use smoother spices like juniper, allspice, cardamom, rosehips, etc., so that they don't irritate the skin.

Put all of the spices to be strung in a small amount of warm water. They can go in together - it won't hurt anything. The water will soften them and will also uncurl the cinnamon.

Using a crewel or tapestry needle and some strong thread (cinnamon dental floss is nice - and scented!) begin stringing the spices. Remember that they will shrink a bit as they dry, so string them tightly.

Hang to dry and they'll be ready in one or two days.

Holiday Herbal Gift Series - #17 Tub Tea

For those of you following along, I apologize for the missed day and will do 2 entries now. We have an chronically critically ill family member and that can complicate the simplest plans. So here goes...

#17 TUB TEAS

Aside from the hundred years here or there when bathing was considered dangerous and wicked, we have always enjoyed our baths. Entire vacations and resorts are planned and built around mineral springs. In many places the water itself is thought to cure, bringing throngs to soak in it. Currently, new homes are built with luxurious spa-baths….huge tubs, multi-head showers, heated floors, and built-in speakers. Once again we are turning to water to sooth our cares and wash away the worries of the world. Bubble baths are fun occasionally, but those of us who enjoy our herbs can concoct delightful additions that far surpass a brief wave of bubbles.

To assemble the apothecary, begin at the grocery store. Powdered milk, Epsom salts, sea salt and oatmeal are good bases to start with.

At the herb shop it gets really interesting. Choose some (or all) of the following:

Chamomile ~ Lavender ~ Rose Petals
Comfrey ~ Irish Moss ~ Tarragon
Elder Flowers ~ Calendula ~ Lemon Balm
Mints ~ Rosemary ~ Violet Leaf

Also wonderful additions, but optional are:

Rose water ~ Orange Water ~ Aloe extract

And essential oils:

Relaxing
Lavender
Frankincense
Chamomile

Uplifting and Energizing
Eucalyptus
Grapefruit
Peppermint

Exotic/Romantic
Patchouli
Jasmine
Ylang Ylang

Cheering
Bergamot
Tangerine
Petitgrain

Mix the dry ingredients well, and store in a pretty jar or canister.
To use, muslin bags are very handy but a square of light cloth works well too.
Tie about ¼ cup of the mix into the cloth.
Fill a ½ gallon pitcher with very hot water and steep the herbs, etc. for 10-15 minutes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Essential Herbal Magazine - Jan/Feb '09 Preview

A new issue is out and we know you're dying to see what is inside. So, as we do with every issue, we'll post the cover and table of contents. I'm thrilled to have dragged a couple shy ones kicking and screaming into the fold (just kidding). Marti Graham sent her first ever article, Ricci Ackerman joined us, and Patty Sigman photographed the cover.
Patty and I go way back (as in 7th grade, sharing clothes, way back), and it makes me so happy to be able to use her work. TABLE OF CONTENTS
Crossword Puzzle ~ Winter Wordplay
Field Notes from the editor
Kitchen Remedies, Susan Evans
List Article ~ Childhood home remedies that don't seem so silly anymore
Bay Recipes, staff
Down on the Farm ~ Herb of the Year 2009 ~ Bay, Michele Brown and Pat Stewart
Winter Shrub, Kimberly Gallagher
Never Enough Thyme ~ The Noble Bay Wreath, Susanna Reppert Brill
Suburban Herbie ~ Lessons from the Garden, Geri Burgert
SouthRidge Treasures ~ Winter Herbal Projects for the Home, Mary Ellen Wilcox
Chocolate Pudding with Bay, Susan Belsinger
Beeswax: Natural Compliment to Herbs, Marti Graham
The Soap Pot ~ Soap Inspirations from the Calendar, Alicia Grosso
Louisiana Lagniappe ~ Savory Herb Bread Pudding, Sarah Liberta
Candlemas, Betsy May
Valentine's Day is Coming! Ricci Ackerman
Damiana Cordial, Sarah Campbell

As always, this issue is filled with how to do things with herbs, delightful recipes, information and that feeling of sitting around the table with a bunch of friends, having a cup of tea while sharing what you know. You can check out subscription information at our website: The Essential Herbal Magazine
Also as always, I must once again express my profound thanks to the people who so generously contribute to The Essential Herbal and make it exactly what it is. Thanks you guys!!! You are wonderful!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Winter Wonderland

Walking along...
Singing a song...


Walking in a Winter Wonderland.
The snow is falling softly on the tree branches down the hill. You can just barely see the silos off in the distance, and they rise almost from an icy haze. There is nothing more beautiful than the view out the office window on any given day... especially when everyone is home, safe and sound.

Doesn't this make you want some cocoa?
Later, the kids went out to do something crazy. Molly wanted to ride on a sled hitched up to the Frogmobile, while Rob drove. Naturally, nobody saw anything wrong with that... so as they dashed across the back field I grabbed the camera to document this moment of brain absence. It was not nearly as dark as it appears in this picture, but isn't it beautiful?

I love the way kids take advantage of weather like this. We sure did when we were that age.

Holiday Herbal Gift Series #15 & #16

Gift Ideas #15 and #16 are all from early issues of The Essential Herbal Magazine

#15 SWEET TREATS


Winter Solstice Candy
This ganache is super easy to make, but it doesn't taste that way!
8 oz White Chocolate finely chopped or in chips
3/4 Cup Full Fat Coconut Milk or Creme De Coco (found in the drink mix aisle)
2 T Butter
1 T Vanilla or Coconut Extract
Put the chocolate into a large bowl and set aside. Heat the milk in the mocrowave till it boils and then poor over chocolate. Stir it till smooth. Put in the fridge and stir occasionaly until cooled. Then beat it till firm and lightened in color. This can be used to ice a cake or rolled into balls. After I made balls I rolled into coconut so I now have Winter Solstice candy! It can also be used to celebrate Full Moons.
recipe from Holly O'Brien

Holiday Nuts and Berries
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup shelled green pistachios
1 cup dried cranberries
Blend together for a colorful, delicious and almost healthy snack to serve over the holidays.
from Christie at RadicalWeeds.com

#16 SOME SWEET FACIAL GIFTS

Cleansing Mask:
4 tablespoons rolled oats
2 teaspoons dried chamomile
2 teaspoons dried parsley
Blend the dried ingredients to a fine powder using a blender or coffee grinder. Package these in a pretty glass or plastic container and add the following directions*.
*Measure 1 tablespoon of the dried ingredients into a small glass bowl. Add 1 tablespoon honey and 1-2 tablespoons very hot water and mix well. Let stand 5 minutes. If mixture seems to thick add a small amount of hot water. Apply to face using gently circular motions and leave on for 2-5 minutes. Rinse face with warm water. Store unused cleanser in refrigerator and use within 5 days .(Chamomile and parsley are antibacterial and honey & oatmeal are softening.)
An extra touch would be adding a nice jar of honey to the basket.

Follow the cleansing mask with a nice steam facial:
Herbal Steam Facial:
2 tablespoons dried chamomile
2 tablespoons dried comfrey
2 tablespoons rose petals
2 tablespoons dried peppermint
2 tablespoons dried rose geranium
Mix above ingredients all together and package into a nice plastic bag or pretty container and add the following directions*.
*Measure 2 tablespoons of the herbs into a small saucepan and simmer in 2 cups of water for 5 minutes. Pour into a heatproof bowl. Bend over the bowl with a towel draped over your head and allow steam to touch your face and neck for up to 10 minutes. Pat dry.

Follow the steam facial with this toner:
Lavender Toner:
4 ounces of witch hazel
15 drops lavender essential oil
5 drops chamomile essential oil
Mix all together and pour into a nice container with a flip top spout and attach the following*.
*Apply to clean face with a cotton ball. This helps your skin to return to its normal pH level.

Finally end your facial with moisturizer:
Lavender Geranium moisturizer:
4 ounces of unscented lotion base
10 drops lavender essential oil
5 drops geranium essential oil
Mix all together and pour into a plastic container with a flip top spout or wide mouth small jar. Add a nice label and of course you can use other essential oils. Please make sure you are familiar with the special qualities of the EO before deciding to use them. Using purchased unscented lotion base just gives the lotion a longer shelf life.
*Apply to cleansed and toned face nightly.

Here are two recipes for bath items to add to your basket. If you want to make your gift a little more special add a votive candle and perhaps a soothing CD or cassette tape.
The above ideas were contributed by Theresa Nolt

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Holiday Herbal Gift Series #14 - Massage Oil

Making Massage Oil is quick and easy once you've got the ingredients. If you're an herbal enthusiast, you've probably already got them! If you don't use this one now, save is for Valentine's Day.
All we need are:
Base oil - Fractionated Coconut, Jojoba, Apricot Kernal, Avocado, and Sweet Almond are all choices and there are many others. Mostly, you want a nice oil with no scent of its own.
Essential oil - For something that you'll be using over large areas of skin, go with essential oil over synthetics.
Decorative bottles - Hopefully you've got some around, but they are easy to find at craft shops. IF they have corks, you'll want to "line" the cork with plastic wrap (wrap the bottom portion of the cork before inserting it into the bottle). We learned the hard way that corks can sometimes act like a wick.
Handmade labels - Either using your trusty computer and printer OR handwriting them, cover them with wide clear packing tape to make them water and oil proof.

To blend the massage oil, first choose the essential oil or if you're adventurous (or experienced) put together a combination of eo's to make a delightful scent.
For each ounce of base oil, add 3 to 5 drops of essential oil. The amount is often quoted as 10 drops per ounce, but because massage oils are used all over, it can quickly become overwhelming. Keep the amount low.

You'll find over 200 pages of great ideas, recipes, and articles filled with information in The Essential Herbal ~ Under the Sun, available on our website.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Some Everyday Stuff

The days are going by so quickly here that there is scarcely a moment to see what the camera captured and report in on how things are going. So I'm squeezing this in between the 21 craft day entries.
Part of the pleasure of having a blog is how easy it is (and surprising sometimes) to look back and see where things were last year, the year before, and so on.
This past week should be recorded as one of the gloomiest I can remember! The weather stunk. It rained and rained until finally on Thursday an enormous storm hit a vast part of the eastern US. There was snow in Louisiana and massive ice in New England. Parts of the north east will be without power for several days.
Here in Lancaster County PA, all is well now. The ground is sodden, but it stopped raining and the sun has come back.
So before all that happened, we had a gorgeous weekend. There were so many people walking over the hillside choosing their trees that we didn't have more than a minute to talk to anyone.
On my way down the hill to get to the shop, I snapped a couple of pictures. The first is some wild grapes on a waist-high tree stump. I just love the vibrant colors of the moss and the curli-cues of the grapevine.
Then, it appeared that some confused hen or duck had been dropping eggs beneath this fir tree... until I noticed the two collapsed "eggs" off to the side. These are some sort of fungus/mushroom.
As I get closer, things are starting to hop at the farm. Rudy is on the alert, and knows where EVERYONE is at all times. The green Frogmobile is his particular target, and never leaves his attention. The last picture is a project I was asked to do for a ... okay... I'll just say it... for a STAR!!! She wanted a couple of aromatherapy kits for friends. Inside are 10 different oils - some in small vials, some in slightly larger bottles. There is a bottle of a carrier oil, and some fun containers (spray bottles, roller bottle, corked vial) to use with their own creations. Since they have to ship to the big city, I made up a sort of potpourri with some of the ingredients that are represented by the essential oils in the kit (and a few that are not) and used that to cushion the bottles inside the jar that is being used to hold the whole kit and kaboodle.
Now that was fun. They can go into the mail on Monday and almost everything will be done then.


Holiday Herbal Gift Series #13 Hot Stuff

I know it is sexist to say this, but I think that hot peppers and food of their ilk are generally man food. I like hot and spicy foods to a degree, but after sitting at a table where 2 men sat on either end having a duel with hot pepper eating, well, you just almost never see women use food as a weapon. Those guys continued even though they couldn't see through the tears. Their noses ran uncontrollably and they could barely speak. But they were having fun, you see.
Not all men are like that (I'm particularly fond of a man who has a thing for scented candles), and I've known women who took the challenge. Somehow sitting in a nice restaurant with every part of my face dripping doesn't seem like a good thing, but that's just me. But if you have a man on the list who needs a little something, there is still time to make some vinegar. The following instruction and recipe is from our book, Making and Using Herb Vinegars.
This recipe was originally on a hang tag from Cider Mill Vinegars in Maryland. They don’t seem to be around anymore, but this is a great dish.
First you’ll need to make some hot pepper vinegar. This is really not too tough.
Take white wine or apple cider vinegar (we like apple cider vinegar for this one) and pour it into a pan with hot peppers. We’ve used dried peppers or fresh, depending on the time of year, and what was available. Heat the vinegar to almost boiling and keep it at a low simmer for 5 minutes.
Fill a large clean bottle about ¼ with peppers. When the vinegar has cooled, strain it and pour it into the bottle(s). Allow the vinegar to ripen for 2 weeks, and it’ll have a nice kick.

Now here’s the recipe:
Garlic Chicken

2 lbs. Boneless chicken breasts
½ c hot pepper vinegar
2 T vegetable oil
2 T honey
15 (yes…15) cloves of garlic, peeled and split
1 oz. soy sauce

Wash chicken and cut in half. Brown in vegetable oil in a heavy skillet. Add garlic and cook a little longer, until browned. Add remaining ingredients and cook over medium heat until chicken is done and glazed with sauce. Turn chicken several times while cooking.
Delicious!

To put together a basket, here are some items that are good additions:
Hot Pepper Jelly - poured over cream cheese and served with crackers, it is incredible.
Dark Chocolate bars with Hot Peppers - Some of the gourmet bars have chilis in them
Cocoa mix with Chili Pepper
Hot Sauces - we carried "Scorned Woman" in the shop for years. Some of the names are hysterical.
Horseradish Sauces
Spicy Dip Mixes
Chocolate Dipped Chili Peppers With Canolli Filling Recipe
(found on grouprecipes.com by mystic_river1)
The flavors of sweet canolli filling, hot jalapenos and then the rich dark chocolate flavor of the dip make this a taste sensation.
Ingredients
Filling for Chilis
---------------------
2 c. or 1 lb. ricotta cheese
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. semi-sweet chocolate bits
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. candied cherries(optional)
---------------
12-20 long chilis of your choice
bottle of thick dark chocolate fudge syrup
Directions
Directions for making filling:
----------------------------------
Blend cheese and sugar until smooth. Add remaining ingredients.
----------------------------------
wash chilis
cut off the tops: about half an inch
clean out seeds and ribs if there are any
put ricotta filling in pastry bag
pipe into chilis
with a little puff on top
----------------------------------------
Plate in a circle with thick ends pointing out
-------------------------------------
In center of plate put a deep bowl with the chocolate fudge(hot or cold)
Dip each chile in fudge return to plate and serve. OR let each person dip their own.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pomanders, Potpourri, and Spicy Ornaments

If you’ve ever worked with me, the first thing you find out is that a recipe is just a starting point. This was clearly illustrated today, when I set out to make wax pomanders using this recipe:
Wax Pomanders
1 ounce beeswax
1/2 cup applesauce
1 1/4 cup assorted powdered spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove, etc.)
1 T orris root
Melt the beeswax slowly with the applesauce.
Stir in the spices and orris root. After the mixture has cooled slightly, pour onto a protected surface.
Roll “dough” into balls.
Roll the balls firmly in lavender buds or rose petals.
Allow to dry three or four days.
Now I thought about making them just like that… briefly. But how much more fragrant would they be if instead of cinnamon and cloves, they were made from sandalwood, myrrh, frankincense, and orange powder? A few drops of oakmoss absolute, and a splash of frankincense essential oil couldn’t hurt either. So I did. The frankincense and myrrh have to be powdered. A coffee grinder is perfect for this task, but so is a heavy plastic bag and hammer. The resins melt, so they don’t need to be hammered too finely. The house smelled heavenly!While rolling different sized balls, my eyes fell upon a dish of varied sizes of pinecones on the porch. The dough easily went in between the “tongues” of the pinecones, and with a little patience and time look wonderful. Even hemlock cones turned out well...although I must admit that it felt a little bit obsessive to work with them.
I also made leaf shapes and stars and all sizes of balls. Some of the balls are studded with cloves. These will become part of a holiday potpourri, although they are nice just as they are. In fact the pinecones would be amazing firestarters!
For the potpourri, I will add star shaped pieces of orange peel, star anise, 1’ cinnamon pieces, frankincense and myrrh pieces, some gold sprayed pine cones, and maybe a little oakmoss. Some rose hips and a few dried rose petals will be nice too. On top will go a few pomanders made from kumquats. A few small pieces of juniper will complete the bowl.
Many other herbs and spices came to mind to use this way. Powdered rosemary would be good. Juniper berries when ground, have a fruity, woodsy scent. The colors would vary by using just allspice, just rosemary, or just powdered dragon’s blood resin (although the dragon’s blood would be an additive to a sandalwood ball).
See what I mean about simple recipes getting out of hand?

Citrus Pomanders
To make citrus pomanders, choose firm, thin skinned fruit.
Use a small nail to make holes in a pleasing pattern all over the fruit.
Fill the holes by sticking whole cloves into them.
The cloves will dry and preserve them. Did you know cloves were used for embalming in ancient times?
Put the fruit on a shallow dish, and cover with a mixture of cinnamon, clove, and orris root—all powdered. Roll the fruit in the powder daily until it is nicely dried.
Kumquats are very quick to do and look great mixed into a potpourri. It’s something the kids really enjoy, because the bigger fruits can get boring for them.

Spice Clay Ornaments1-1/2 of a mixture of powdered spices. Could be clove, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, or any of the fragrant baking type spices.
1 C apple sauce
1 t gum tragacanth (optional, but awesome!)

Blend together the dry ingredients with the apple sauce. If it is too dry, add a wee bit of water. If it is too wet, add a bit of the powdered spices.
Roll out the dough onto parchment or waxed paper until it is about 1/2" thick.
Cut out shapes with cookie cutters.
Use a drinking straw to make holes through which ribbons to hang them will go.
Turn onto parchment covered cardboard.
Allow to dry for several days, turning on occasion so that both sides are exposed to the air.
Add colorful ribbons and use them on the tree or on gifts as tie-ons.

Have a wonderful, heavily scented time :-). You might as well plan on baking cookies because after playing with all of these spices all you need is some oatmeal, sugar, flour, eggs, butter... you know the drill.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Holiday Herbal Gift Series #11 - Herb "Kit" and a Lip Balm

This idea came to me the other day after a friend asked me to make up a couple aromatherapy kits for her to give as gifts. They will consist of 5 common essential oils, 5 rare essential oils, some carrier oil, pipettes, and various types of containers, like roll-on bottles, spray bottles, and dropper bottles so that the recipients can play with the oils. My friend has added a good essential oil book.
For an Herb Kit, there are so many things you could add, so we'll just list some of them here. I think this is a sort of Pick and Choose thing.

***The very first thing would HAVE to be a subscription to The Essential Herbal Magazine. Sorry if that seems self-serving, but seriously, it is a must-have.
***An ounce or so of 10 herbs. Now this would depend on what sort of herbal interest the recipient has. Is it culinary? Then perhaps we'd choose:
Coriander ~~ Lemon Thyme
Cardamom ~~ Nutmegs and a grater
Rosemary ~~ Cumin
Dill Seeds ~~ Pink, Green, and Black Peppercorns
Star Anise ~~ Saffron

Is the interest medicinal? Then choices might be:
Echinacea ~~ Elderberry
Ginger ~~ Licorice Root

Lemon Balm ~~ Comfrey
St Johns Wort ~~ Chamomile
Ginseng ~~ Nettle
And there is always the magickal herbalist who might like:
Cinquefoil ~~ Lucky Hand
Mandrake ~~ Frankincense
Galangal ~~ Mugwort
Bay ~~ Oak Moss
Patchouli ~~ Sandalwood
Among all of those categories, things like Lavender, Roses, and Sage (the old stand-bys) could also go.
***Muslin bags or heat sealable tea bags
***one ounce dropper bottles
***mortar and pestle
***a few ounces of a good base oil, like jojoba or apricot kernal
***beeswax
***1 pint canning jars and lids
***funnel
***labels
***Under the Sun (of course! on our website...)
***a few essential oils
***a few distillates
***filters
***inexpensive scale
***empty vials, tins, and bottles to contain any completed projects
***special notebook to contain all recipes and results as they are tried
As you can see, there are a lot of ways to go with this. I'm certain that there are some important things I'm missing. If it were a culinary kit, a few kitchen tools would undoubtedly be welcome. In the medicinal kit it would be good to add some vodka and a good screened strainer - maybe a jelly strainer. The magickal kit might include candles and a gemstone of some sort.
Please check our advertisers to the right >>>> for excellent suppliers!

Now to the Lip Balm...
1 T jojoba oil
1 t cocoa butter
1 t beeswax
Melt the beeswax along with the oil and butter in a double boiler. Add any flavoring you might like at this stage. A drop of lavender is really nice on chapped lips! Alcohol based flavorings will not incorporate. A drop or two of various essential oils will. Rose, lavender, orange, grapefruit, or lime all work well.
Pour into small tubes, pots, or slip-tins and allow to set-up.

Please look over the previous 10 posts for sources. Thanks!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Holiday Herbal Gift Series #10 - Incense Papers

Incense is something we started playing with back in the days of our shop at the renaissance festival. A few years after we closed that shop, we wrote the Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin, Making Your Own Incense in 1999. One of the really fun ways to make incense is Incense Papers. This idea comes from The Complete Book of Incense, Oils & Brews, by Scott Cunningham, and the recipe below is copied from the book. Be sure to visit some of the advertisers of The Essential Herbal magazine to pick up ingredients. For the salt peter, it might be near the canning supplies at your grocery, or ask at the butcher's. Otherwise, you can find it on my site. Our advertisers to check out: Ancient Healing Oils, Herbs from the Labyrinth, SunRose Aromatics, and Farm at Coventry. For blotter paper, I suggest getting watercolor paper from the art supply store. If you look on-line, all you'll find is stories about LSD.INCENSE PAPERS
"Incense papers are a delightful variation of combustible incense. Here, rather than using charcoal and gum tragacanth, tinctures and paper are the basic ingredients. Wne finished you'll have produced several strips of richly scented paper that can be smoldered with a minimum of fuss.
To make incense papers, take a piece of white blotter paper and cut it into six-inch strips about an inch wide.
Next, add one and one-half teaspoons potassium nitrate to one half cup very warm water. Stir until the saltpeter is completely dissolved.
Soak the paper strips in the saltpeter solution until thoroughly saturated. Hang them up to dry.
You now have paper versions of the charcoal blocks used to burn incense. The obstacle in scenting them is to overcome the normal smell of burning paper. For this reason, heavy fragrances should be used, such as tinctures (ed: resins soaked in alcohol are the resins referred to here).
Tinctures compounded from gums and resins seem to produce the best results. I've tried using true essential oils with incense papers but without much success.
....pour a few drops of the tincture onto one strip of paper. Smear this over the paper and add more drops until it is completely coated on one side.
Hang the strip up to dry and store in labelled, airtight containers until needed."

This was written quite a while ago. There are some very thick and heavy essential oils, concretes, and absolutes that could be used in this craft - as well as the tinctured resins. I am even thinking about the pine pitch outside, although I cannot figure out how to dry that stuff... Occasionally it is possible to find "incense matches" that are made with this basic premise, but the matches are imbued with fragrance oils and smolder after being blown out, making them nice for travel, bathrooms, etc. It makes me think that a sweet little box filled with 1" squares of the incense paper, along with a box of matches, would make a lovely gift.

A few of our other advertisers who deserve a listing: Soap Equipment, LearningHerbs, Laurel Country Herbs, and Herbal Garden.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Holiday Herbal Gift Series #9 - Sachets and Eye Pillows

I want to go on record here to tell you that this is really a great exercise. It is something that has started to stay with me all day. What about this? How about that? Would that be reasonable? Would the typical person be able to find these items within a week or two? So this is a fun and challenging blog series to be doing. I wasn't expecting that. If you're enjoying this series, consider a subscription to The Essential Herbal Magazine, where we write about these things every other month and it comes directly to your door. Click on the sidebar >>>
to download a free sold-out back issue right now!

SACHETS

When our mother died, we were going through her belongings, and eventually found a couple dozen bars of our handmade soap. Any soapmaker will tell you to USE THE DARNED SOAP! We can always make more. Besides, it is nice to have cute little sachets that can be placed in drawers and hung over hangers and such. They are so simple to make that it seems a shame that they aren't used more. Additionally, things like lavender, patchouli, and cedar discourage moths and scent a closet agreeably.

First, you'll need the cloth bags. You can make them yourself from pretty fabric. A finished size of 3"x4" is good. You can also find muslin bags in that size. Other possibilities are the heat sealable teabags or the round ruffled coffee filters, which can be gathered, tied, and fluffed at the top.
My favorite choice to give or receive would be lavender in tied muslin bags. Package several together and make up a cute label. Include a list of ways to use them, such as:
~ to scent drawers
~ in the clothes dryer, to scent the clothes (each bag should last for about 3 loads)
~ make a strong tea with the lavender sachet and add to the bath
~ tie to a clothes hanger to keep clothes free from moths and musty odors
If you decide to decorate the muslin bags, be sure to place cardboard inside so that the paint or ink doesn't go through both layers of fabric.

EYE PILLOWS

These are really nice. In fact, in a way eye pillows instigated our full time shop. Chinaberry catalog included some eye pillows, and they had ingredients like flax seeds (of course), lavender, peppermint, yarrow, and hops. One of the other mothers at the Waldorf school Molly attended really wanted to make them and came to me looking for the herbs - which were packed away waiting for the next renaissance faire season. My sister and I thought, "if you can't even get an ounce of lavender locally, it's time to open fulltime."
And so we did.

Anyway... the finished size of an eye pillow is about 4" x 7". It will be filled with about a cup of *mostly* flax seeds, with a touch of lavender if desired. Some people use a lot of other herbs, but to me that seems like a waste. Besides, I used it most during a migraine and scents just made me sick. I no longer get migraines, but still avoid heavy scents in eye pillows because of that. The little flax seeds have the perfect size and weight to sink into the area around the eye and soothing and cooling. They really do help.

The best thing to do is make the pillow out of a tightly woven material and then a pillowcase from a silky cloth. That way, you can wash the pillowcase. The pillow itself must not be allowed to get wet, or the flax seeds will sprout. Flax seeds can be purchased from a health food store or at a bulk food store.

HOT/COLD pads for sore achy muscles

You can use the same principal to make wonderful hot/cold pads. For these you will use a much sturdier fabric, like denim or light canvas and they are filled with rice. These are made in all shapes and sizes, but the one I like best is about 5" x 2' with soft rope handles at either end. It is made like a long fabric tube. Sew the one end closed. Fill about 3/4 - 4/5 of the way with rice. If you want to add some herbs, they would be mixed with the rice prior to filling. Some choices would include lavender and peppermint. I've seen as many as 2 dozen herbs added, but (and I apologize to the makers) to me that just seems like label appeal.
Close the second end.

With a large needle and heavy thread, you can add baffles up the center.
Sew handles onto the ends for ease of use. This and the baffles are optional, but really make it nice.
To use, the pad can be placed into the microwave for a minute (no more), or chilled in the freezer.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Holiday Herbal Gifts Series #8 - tea blends and gel air fresheners

Making tea blends for your friends can be a lot of fun and very simple. Heat sealable (the iron works beautifully) tea bags are available various places and you can even print out these pre-designed tea envelopes to finish them in a good looking way. Containers to hold the tea bags can be almost anything, but craft shops have tons of containers. Design labels to give the recipient an idea of what is IN the tea.
If you've been saving and drying herbs from your garden you are all set. If not, look below at the previous posts in the series for advertisers/suppliers for dried herbs AND the heat sealable tea bags.
Creating the blend is unbelievably easy. Would you like a relaxing tea? Blend together chamomile blossoms, lemon balm leaves, and some passionflower. There are lots of other choices. A nice blend of mint and regular old black tea is fabulous! Roses, rosehips, and lemon grass is good. Need more ideas? Grab a copy of Blending Herbal Teas from The Essential Herbal right quick, and get to it!
Finally, look at what you have in the cupboard. Mix it together and brew up a cup. Is it good? Then you've created a blend. If it needs something, consider some spices - ginger, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, or vanilla bean, for instance. Each teabag gets about 1 t inside for a cuppa tea.
If you have a friend that is really, REALLY a tea person, check out the handmade glass teapot pendants at my sister's site: Torchsongstudio.com, and I cannot recommend The Rosemary House highly enough for tea people. If you are in PA, a reservation for tea at Sweet Remembrances is worth considering. We love it there!
Gel Air Freshener
2 cups water
4 packets Knox unflavored gelatin
food coloring
1 t essential or fragrance oil
1 oz vodka
Bring one cup of water to a boil. Add gelatin slowly a packet at a time, until all is dissolved. Remove from heat and add second cup of water, food coloring, fragrance, and vodka.
Pour into 1/2 c canning jars. After they've set up, put a piece of netting over the opening, the lid, and then the metal ring. When in use, the ring holds the netting in place, but the lid is removed.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
If you're not in the mood to make anything, there's still time to order from The Essential Herbal.
One idea for the outdoors type: A copy of Wild Foods for Every Table along with an Outdoor Trio, containing a bar of Happy Camper - jewelweed and plantain soap, a bottle of Hiker's Releaf spray made from apple cider vinegar, sage, jewelweed, and plantain, and a Git Stick.
For anyone who believes in faeries: A beautiful hand woven lavender wand and a copy of The Fairy Home Companion.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Holiday Herbal Series #7 - Chai and Sugarplums

The first is a chai blend that we printed in the nov/dec '06 issue of The Essential Herbal. That year our list question was about hostess gifts, and we got some awesome ideas!

Instant Chai
3/4 c sugar
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 c powdered honey (or an additional 1/4 c sugar)
1/2 c unsweetened iced tea mix
2 c nonfat dry milk
1/2 c non-dairy creamer
1 t powdered ginger
1 t powdered cinnamon
1/2 t powdered clove
1/2 t powdered cardamom
First, pour the vanilla extract in with the sugar and stir it around to break up the lumps and let it dry before mixing it in with the other ingredients. Mix all ingredients together in a blender or food processor and blend until you get a powdery texture, about one minute. This will make about 1 gallon of prepared chai. Lastly, if you don't want to use iced tea mix, you can mix all the other ingredients and suggest brewing regular tea and mix about 2 rounded T of mix to the brewed tea. Package in Chinese carryout boxes lined with plastic bags. Maybe tie on a few cinnamon sticks with a festive ribbon. Add instructions: For one cup at a time, use 2 to 3 rounded T to about 8 oz of water. Always mix with hot water to prevent clumps. Once mixed, you can pour over ice or just keep in the fridge for iced chai. Contributed by Maryanne Schwartz at Torchsong

The next craft is actually from the newspaper. Karen Hegre from Black Hills Herbs put it up this morning, and it came through the Associated Press:

Sugarplums
Start to finish - 30 minutes & makes 30 sugarplums.
Ingredients:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup pecans
1/4 cup pistachios
1 cup pitted dates
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup dried figs
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dried cherries
2 tablespoons orange liqueur or rum or your substitution.
In a wide, shallow bowl, combine the sugar, cardamom and cinnamon. Mix well, then set aside. In a food processor, pulse the pecans until roughly chopped. Add the pistachios & pulse again until both nots are finely chopped. Transfer the nuts to a bowl & set aside. In the food processor, combine the dates, apricots & figs. Pulse briefly until roughly chopped. Add the raisins & cherries, then continue pulsing until the fruit is evenly chopped and begins to clump.Return the nuts to the processor & add the rum, liqueur, orsubstitute. Pulse until just mixed. If the mixture does not sticktogether, add additional rum or liqueur, or substitute. A teaspoon at a time, roll the mixture into balls, then roll eachball in sugar until well-coated.Sugarplums can be refrigerated in a sealed conainer for up to 1 month. If you layer the sugarplums, place a sheet of waxed paper between each layer.

My note: In looking around the internet, I found several interesting recipes and picked up this tip. If you want the sugarplums to look more old-timey, use turbinado sugar to roll them in. It has a light brown color.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Holiday Herbal Gifts Series #6 - spritzes and powders

I chose some simple ideas for today because I'm about to fly down to the shop and get ready for a huge crowd. We don't usually do much on weekdays, but yesterday was swamped.
So...

Linen or Body Spritz
4 oz spritz bottle
3 oz distilled water
1 oz vodka
40 drops of fragrance

First in goes the alcohol, then the fragrance, then fill with the water. If filled in this order, the mixture sometimes remains emulsified. In any case though, put "shake well before use" on the label before giving away.

Natural Dusting Powder
2 cup corn starch
1 cup rice flour
1 cup arrowroot
1 tsp. orris root
1/2 tsp essential oil
Mix the essential oil first with the orris root and allow to sit for a few hours. Then mix that with one cup of the corn starch, blending well. Finally, mix it all together. Let sit for at least a week. Put into powder shakers or wide boxes with a puff. If you cannot find the arrowroot, you may substitute more of the corn starch or rice flour. I also like to add powdered rose petals - just enough to give it a slight pink color.

Some of our advertisers at The Essential Herbal Magazine that might be helpful in these projects, for both the ingredients and the containers: The Soap Dish, Southern Soapers, and SunRose Aromatics - as well as the sources listed in #4.

The above products would go very well with some of the products found at The Sibling Group, and of course you can't beat a yearly subscription to The Essential Herbal. Have I mentioned that before? I can't recall :-).

Friday, December 05, 2008

Holiday Herbal Gift Series #5 Simmering Potpourri

This craft is pleasant to work with as well as it is to give. The shot below is from our display at Frog Hollow Evergreens. Making simmering potpourri is simple and you can make it as complex or straightforward as you like. It can depend on what you have available. The sources listed yesterday can help you out, or you can find many ingredients at the grocery store!
We use the 3" x 4" muslin bags to keep everything together when it simmers. They can be found in cooking shops, but they are optional.
To begin, eat an orange. Keep the peel. See how much fun this is? Chop the peel coarsely into roughly the same sized pieces and place on a cookie sheet. Set the oven on "warm" and dry the orange peel. Your house will smell great.
Next, to the grocery store. If you have a discount grocery that sells big jars of spices, you may find the ingredients pretty cheaply. Some to look for: Cinnamon pieces or sticks, allspice, whole nutmegs, cloves, dried slices of ginger, and coriander. Pepper berries can go in there too - especially if you have the green and pink. Some ingredients that are harder to find and may require a visit to the herb shop are: Rose hips, star anise, juniper berry and cardamom pods.
When you've gathered all the spices, begin mixing. Set a pot of water to boiling so that you can test as you go. Additionally, you can mix a few drops of various essential (or fragrance) oils into the blend. Maybe for a winter blend you'd add some balsam fir scent or a blast of orange. It is hard to put together a bad batch.

And of course let me take a moment to recommend The Essential Herbal magazine or any of our fabulous books!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Shop at Frog Hollow and a Brag

Since I keep mentioning our little shop at Frog Hollow Evergreens, I thought I'd show you a few pictures. We were just starting to get it put together here. It is a temporary thing that we do one month only. Everything we have in the shop can be found at SiblingGroup.com all year long.
A lot of our customers from the Mount Joy Farmers Market have taken the time to find us and restock their soap supplies! That has been a fun surprise this year.Lip Balms, salves, bath teas and especially the salt scrubs (!!!) have been flying off the shelves faster than we can keep up. We have production to accomplish before the weekend gets here. The solid perfume/lotion bars are popular too - especially the amber.I have a corner display of The Essential Herbal Magazine and all of the books we've put out (so far :-). If you are looking for a gift for an herbie friend, either a subscription and/or a copy of Under the Sun cannot be beat. Maryanne's Torchsong Studio jewelry has a table in the shop. Her torch is set up, but there hasn't been much time lately.
This next item is THE BIG BRAG. I submitted an article to a Chinese magazine about a year ago. It was an article on gourd crafts that had already run in The Essential Herbal (but really, neither they nor I were terribly worried about people reading it both places - lol). Yesterday it came in the mail. Isn't that cool? I think that of all the things I've done or had published, this is the one my daughter was most impressed by. It's a 2 page spread, but I wanted to be sure and get a legible shot of the by-line.

holiday herbal gift series #4

This is supposed to be easy, but I am really trying to make it so the ingredients are easy for everyone to find in the store around the corner. This morning I woke up thinking about little corked vials of frankincense and myrrh in handmade gold lame drawstring bags - but not everyone has big bags of them lying around. Check your nearest herb shop - or check at one of these fine establishments that choose to advertise or write in The Essential Herbal Magazine: The Rosemary House, Herbs from the Labyrinth, Farm at Coventry, or Mountain Rose.

Some other ideas for today:
Deviled Mixed Nuts (from Susan Evans)
3 T coconut or canola oil
2 C assorted nuts
2 T sugar
1 t paprika
1/2 t chili powder
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t ground coriander
1/2 tsp black pepper
Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Cook and stir nuts for 2-3 minutes until browned. Combine remaining ingredients in small bowl and sprinkle over nuts. Stir to coat evenly and heat for a few minutes more. Drain nuts on wire rack lined with paper towels.

Cinnamon Holidays Tea (from Mary Ellen Wilcox)
1/2 C broken rose hips
1/2 C orange peel in small pieces
1/2 C hibiscus flowers, broken
1 C lemon verbena leaves, crumbled
4 t cinnamon pieces
Mix all ingredients together. Store in an airtight container. To make a cup of tea, use 1 t blend in a cup of boiling water and steep 5 minutes. A bit of honey may be added if desired.

DELUXE Almond Bark - my own decadent creation
After stumbling across some 1 pound blocks of high quality white chocolate for an unbelievable price, I made some variations on almond bark and it was my main gift to give that year. My mother brought her empty jar back and asked for a refill.
I used a combination of ALL of these items: dried cherries, dried blueberries, hazelnuts, almonds, nut and raisin trail mix, chopped up caramels, and chocolate chips.
About 2 cups of the mixed ingredients for every pound of the white chocolate. The white chocolate can be melted in the microwave or in a double boiler. Mix in the yummies, and then spread onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper. Chill in the fridge for about 1/2 hour and then break into bite-sized or larger pieces.

All of these can be made in larger quantities and packaged creatively as gifts. Stay tuned. We have 7 holiday issues here, and lots of other ideas. Feel free to leave any of your own ideas or recipes in the comments section!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

holiday herbal gift series #3 - vanilla

For some, a handful of vanilla beans tied and presented well would be a wonderful gift. In fact if you are thinking about someone who is just finding their way around the kitchen OR well versed in cooking, consider some of the exotic seasonings - star anise, cardamom pods, saffron, and vanilla beans for starters. Possibly a recipe or two, printed onto cards, so that they can dive right in. I saw an interesting recipe for vanilla cardamom pudding while sniffing around for this post. Vanilla beans can very simply be made into vanilla extract and homemade vanilla is the best! Some beautiful bottles, good vodka and split vanilla beans, and we're on our way. For a 6-8 ounce bottle of the extract, slice open 3 or 4 beans and insert into an empty bottle. Cover with vodka and give a good shake. The extract will be ready to use in a couple of weeks, but leave the beans in until just prior to use. I have seen the beans cut into 1" pieces. That isn't as pretty, but in that case I might just leave them in there, never straining, and refill the vodka a time or two.

Vanilla beans can also be inserted into a bottle or jar of honey to flavor it. Basically the same thing as the extract.

Vanilla and lavender sugar is a nice gift! Slice open a vanilla bean and remove the seeds. Mix the seeds with about 2 cups of sugar. Cut the bean/pod in half. Place the sugar that has been mixed with the seeds, the pieces of the bean, and a tablespoon full of lavender in a jar that is big enough that you can shake it on occasion and the contents can move around. After 2 weeks, remove the bean and package in decorative containers for gifts. Small bale jars are perfect!


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Frog Hollow Evergreens

This post is in response to the searches for Christmas Tree farms in Mount Joy.
Frog Hollow Tree Farm
Frog Hollow Evergreens
That tree farm in Rapho Township that only charges $30/tree no matter how tall.
Carry on and ignore this is you aren't searching. It's just that my sis has been interviewed on the news several times lately and they've neglected to list all the contact information.

Holiday Herbal Gift Series #1 & #2

I wanted to start this on the first, but missed a day. Planning fun and inexpensive gifts with an idea that I would actually use myself is a little challenge I've set for myself.

#1 - (for yesterday) is BATH SALTS. This one is super easy. Sea salt, kosher salt, or even table salt can be used. Sea salt is really best though IMHO. To a couple cups of salt, add a teaspoon of liquid glycerine (that can be obtained at the pharmacy) into which you've mixed 10-20 drops of essential or fragrance oil and a drop or two of food coloring. Allow the salt to sit, mixed, for a week or so and then put into a decorative container that can be purchased in a craft store. Some scented oils might morph with salt - lavender does, for instance. Test them by mixing a drop with a teaspoon and allowing to sit for 2 days. If the scent stays true, you can use it.

#2 - today's idea is one we will definitely use here this year. Memory Boxes are made by getting unfinished wooden boxes at the craft store and using Modge-Podge to decoupage pictures that remind you of that person, things you've done together, things you know they like, etc. to make an interesting creation that will let that person know how special they are to you. Pictures can be real or taken from the computer by using Google Images. This one will be great fun!

Yesterday we were a few floors off the ground overlooking the town of Hershey. The walls were glass and we could see for miles.
An intense storm blew in as we watched, and pea-sized hail quickly covered the parking lots and walk-ways.
Moments later, the sun broke out and a rainbow was visible.
Driving home we watched the crescent moon keep company with Venus and Jupiter.
The barn across the street lit their 8 foot star that is directly across the street. I love it.
The world was so entertaining yesterday.

Stay tuned... more crafts to come!

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