Friday, December 30, 2005

The Newest Issue is "in the mail"

The Essential Herbal Jan/Feb issue is in the mail. It will be a little while before it starts arriving at the homes of subscribers, but it will be worth the wait. This issue has more than a little of everything!

To begin with, Maureen Rogers sent an article on scented geraniums (2006 herb of the year) that leaves barely a stone unturned. Cultivation, uses, and recipes for both culinary and body care using this plant and the oil.
Bryna Tracy wrote a tutorial on Oven Hot Process Soap using milk. This is a process I've never done, but will probably be trying soon.
We did an interview with Rachel Johnston of Scent by Spirit, who has just expanded her business to the point of needing a warehouse.
Karen Mallinger lets us in on the life of an herbal columnist. She's got a real knack for seeing humor in the absurd :-).
Michele Brown is also expanding into wholesale this year, and talks about that in her column. Susanna Reppert Brill explains tea in hers.
Susan Evans gives some great advice for staying healthy this winter, and then we do a quick take on five herbs to help in another article.
Sarah Liberta tempts us once again with Sweet Potato Spice Cake. Oh my!
Oh but that isn't all! Mary Ellen Wilcox and Sam Corwin sent instructions for Valentine's Day crafting, Tina Sams put together articles on Soups and Stepping Stones, and the Yahoo list gave many suggestions on keeping the winter blues at bay.
Jerry Striker sent his favorite Elderberry Pie recipe, and Sheri Weix sent Mulled Maple Cider. Patty Sigman sent several of her favorite recipes.
We also did something new this issue - a readers' showcase. Lots of wonderful products were reviewed along with some great books.
So begins the 5th year. Each issue is filled with the offerings of many herb folk, and each issue is better than the last. Bravo to all of our contributors!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Brown With Envy

From the very first issue of The Essential Herbal (Jan/Feb '02), an article by Beth Bender Walters:


I shall confess from the beginning that I am obsessed with my garden. Smitten, enraptured, possessed. To dig, sweat, weed, compost, plant and replant appear to be my calling in life.
Those living within spying distance of my puttering are perpetually perplexed by my activities. To rescue those pungent pine needles, after my neighbor stuffs them into black plastic trash bags, quickens my pulse. I positively run down the street with my trusty wheelbarrow, ready to make a clean sweep of suburbia. I gleefully collect all of those grass trimmings which were bound for the dump.
In time, all of these fine ingredients I have accumulated shall be converted into the oh-so-precious and coveted black dirt. Pay dirt. Most people do not expend so much energy on the subject of dirt, unless it is in their house and it requires sweeping, mopping, or dusting. I, on the other hand, am enamored with terra firma. Not the indoor variety; house dirt is best ignored until a rainy day.
The good stuff is all out there in the garden somewhere...or rather, in somebody else's garden. I once read an article which boasted the title "Perfect Soil in 3 Easy Steps". "312 Backbreaking Steps" would be more accurate. The author claimed the ability to "plunge my arm into my borders up to my elbow in sweet, dark humus". Not to be outdone, I zipped outside to my cosseted, pampered soil and inserted my little finger clear up to the second joint. I suspect that the owners of these glossy picture perfect gardens are not gardeners at all, just sick individuals that enjoy making the rest of us howl in defeat and despair.
Even with my neighborhood foragings, the plot of land where I do my picking and scratching is composed primarily of clay, rock and thistle, where Canada Thistle grows in abundance and has a tap root that could encircle Cleveland within one growing season. This is my "lot (or plot) in life."
I covet other people's fertile soil in the same way that others drool over sports cars. My sister in law can produce the most delicate spires of lupines (that I attribute to her dark, fertile soil), whereas in my garden they languish, wither and perish. I am convinced that there is a secret recipe for her crumbly soil. Perhaps there is a secret recipe, handed down through generations, safeguarded like Grandma's pie crust recipe. As much as I beg, plead and threaten, she still refuses to admit that there is a formula that she follows. Ha! I've seen her shed where she keeps bags of peat moss, lime and dried manure. I know that her magical blend is floating somewhere in her head.
Its only a matter of time before I either pry the recipe from her or stumble upon it myself. In the meantime, I'll still gather my neighbor's clippings, I'll continue to pick the endless supply of shale out of my garden, and I'll continue to dream of the next season. After all, I am a gardener.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Rudolph the wonder Dog

Rudolph the wonder dog belongs to my brother in law, Bob. He's the family pet, but there can be no doubt that his heart belongs to Bob.
To understand the story of Rudy, you have to know the story of Jellybean.
Many years ago Jellybean joined the family. He was smart, brave, and a bit of a rogue. The family has a Christmas tree farm, and as soon as he was old enough it became Jellybean's job to greet each family as they arrived to choose their tree. Everyone knew him, and children adored him, looking for him and asking for him if he didn't appear.
After 12 seasons of hard work, Jellybean found his favorite spot on Christmas morning, lay down, and let out his last breath.
He had been Bob's boy too.
Eventually, the family found Rudy. This puppy had some big shoes to fill. At first it didn't look like he would be up to the challenge. He follows Bob everywhere, but while Jellybean was more serious, this little guy is very silly.
Little did we realize that Rudy was carving his own niche. He's an original, not following in footsteps, but creating his very own place. Rudy also greets the families as they arrive, and he might even help them pick the tree - but he is Bob's assistant. Rudy is a talker, and a dancer. He is aware of each and every movement in that house.
Last night as we gathered at my sister's preparing to celebrate at our brother's home, Rudy went and settled among the gifts under their tree. He knows what a gift he is.
I had to laugh when Bob started rubbing his hands together and looked at my sister with excitement asking, "can we let him open one of his presents early?'
Is there anything like a boy and his dog?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Shop the local stores!

I always try to do as much shopping in privately owned shops as possible. As as previous shop keep myself, its important to me (and should be important to everyone) that the shops that work hard to have unusual, unique, and special items stick around for us to enjoy. A while back, I wrote about 10,000 Villages and today I stopped in to visit The Dusty Rose, a purveyor of "Fine Gifts, Antiques & Such". The Dusty Rose is a great find, nestled in next to the grocery shop near my house, and just a few doors down from my favorite Chinese restaurant.
In the window are giant hand-blown orbs of glass which are just the tantalizing beginning. Owners Jerry and Barb Striker search far and wide for delightful home accents, jewelry, tabletop items, candles, fountains... all sorts of cool stuff. Today I found 2 gifts for my daughter. It's perfectly safe to mention them here, because she finds me far too boring to ever peruse this blog. Sigh.... Anyway, they sell a line of fairy jewelry, and I got her a tiny fairy wand necklace for Christmas, and another - a tiny frog with a crown - for her upcoming birthday. They are really sweet, she'll love them. The Dusty Rose can be reached either by email - , or at 717-581-1775.
I should mention here that Jerry is a long-time friend. He's the slave-driver I worked for who forced me to learn how to use the computer. His sense of humor can be found throughout the shop in some of the more unusual items. A couple years ago I found an egg separator for a friend that had Jerry written all over it. It was a ceramic piece, resembling a human head. You poured the egg into the top of the head, and the white of the egg came out the nose, while the perfect yolk remained inside.
Barb worked at the same place, and we've been friends a long time too. Her eye for display and taste are evident in every detail. The customer service is incredible.
Yep, I love the small shops.
Jerry supplied a recipe for Elderberry Pie that will be in the upcoming Jan/Feb issue of The Essential Herbal, that he brought back from his aunt's recipe collection in Ohio.
Even though the holiday season is drawing to a close, be sure to stop in and support local business whenever the opportunity arises. The big boxes may seem convenient now, but when they become the only choice, life will sure be boring.

Friday, December 16, 2005

pink tree... pity me.

A couple of years ago we found this tree, and thought it was just crazy enough to be cool. Molly kept it in her room, holding beads, hats, and neckwear. Its small, maybe 4" tall, so it was just in the corner minding it's own business. We didn't use it for it's intended purpose, going for more traditional greenery. Maybe it is just me, but when making a purchase such as this, it doesn't immediately occur to one that typical ornamentation is not really sufficient. We decided that this was the year to give it a shot. I think it still needs work, maybe a match and some starter fluid.
This angle isn't the best either... not that there really IS a good angle, mind you. I bought lights today, passing over the tiny pink bulbs that would have worked better (in retrospect), and choosing instead a set of 7 round bulbs in different shades of purple, pink, green, and yellow. They aren't turned on right now. Its not good. There are large paper flowers, a few flamingos, lots and lots of lunaria in the branches, and a ton of icicles.
This seemed like a good year to bring this tree out. It hasn't been a traditional year. It's been a strange, crazy year and we weren't willing to invest a lot of $$$ in making this tree (and therefore this year) look any better than it really is. All I can say is we were willing to try it once, and this will be enough. More than enough, but still...
Now that the decor is pretty much finished, its time to turn attention to other last minute bits and pieces. Time to settle in and spend some time doing some more tradional things like (ugh) baking cookies, wrapping gifts, stuffing stockings, and visiting with relatives and friends.
I know one thing for sure, this baby is coming down on New Year's Day.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

El Rodeo with Steph and Valerie

Every now and then I get together with some buds from my old work-place (now known as "the printer"). A fairly new restaurant opened up in the area with authentic Mexican food and terrific prices, so that works for us.
Here are Steph and Val in a jovial pre-holiday mood.... which isn't always easy after a long day of work. Its fun to get together over a basket of chips and talk about what's going on in our lives. Steph shares many of the same interests that I have, and Valerie has daughters around the same age as mine, so we never run out of stuff to talk about. Steph even tried the fudge recipe that was recently posted, and brought some along for us to try. Yummmm. It was good.
One of the things I love about this restaurant is the decor. Bright and cheerful!
How could you not have fun at a table like this? All carved and painted with a thick glass top. I secretly covet this table for my own dining room. Now the booths, on the other hand, are the same tables, except they are higher - so they come up almost to my chin. That's not so much fun. We finally caught on and asked for a table instead. They have a Mariachi band every so often, but I haven't been there on the right night for that yet.
So on other fronts, there is one more weekend at the Frog Hollow shop, and then we'll decide how to proceed. The magazine is my priority, glass torchwork is Maryanne's, and then there are all the things that fall in between that we do together. I'm so excited to see how the next year unfolds.

Monday, December 12, 2005

More Natural Ornaments

From The Essential Herbal

1 ounce beeswax
1/2 cup applesauce
1-1/4 cup assorted powdered spices (cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, clove, etc.)
1 T orris root
Melt 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, rose petals, or citrus peel granules. Allow to dry 3 or 4 days.

Gather bay leaves (lots), dried apple and orange slices, large dried rosehips, and cinnamon sticks. Soak the rosehips and cinnamon in warm water for a few minutes to make them soft enough to pierce with a large needle.Thread large needle with dental floss or quilting twine. Begin with a rosehip, then a cinnamon stick, then an apple slice. Add enough bay leaves (through the center) to fill about 1", then an orange slice, then another inch of bay leaves. Apple slice, cinnamon stick, rosehip. Leave enough twine at either end to tie off, and enough on one of the ends to form a loop for hanging.p.s. You can string these in any order you'd like - this is just an example.

Although I titled this leaves, it works well with many, many of the things found outside - although it may be just a little late if you're under snow right now. I look for nice thick oak leaves, and other sturdy, well shaped leaves, pinecones, milkweed pods, clumps of acorns (the acorn needs to be glued into the cap, because it shrinks as it dries and falls out) and larch branches are great if you can find them. Also the Crepe Myrtle seed pod sprays are gorgeous.Spray or hand paint them in shimmery metallic colors and attach twine, ribbon or wire to hang.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Hoar Frost for the holidays

Today was a gorgeous day - in a sort of otherworldly, foggy dreamy kind of way. I drove up the back roads to the shop, trying to avoid icy patches while still watching the scenery. It was so unusual!
We'd had several inches of snow last week but then the weather warmed up a little bit. Overnight, there was a heavy fog that then froze with just a light coating on everything it touched. I think that is termed a "hoar frost".
I passed horses grazing in the mist, a weeping willow completely covered by this crystalline magic, and weeds that seemed to be blooming with ice flowers.

Once I arrived at the tree farm, I headed straight up the hill with the camera to catch the frozen fireworks and the frosted "flowers.
It was simply gorgeous, and here are some wintry photos I wanted to share with you.
The shop we cobbled together has been a lot of fun, and provided us with a real reason to do a lot of things (whipped shea butter, emulsified sugar scrubs, soap stones, etc) we've been wanting to do. Only one more week. Maryanne got a lot of good feedback on her glasswork, and enough sales to have her fired up.
I teased the Yahoo group mercilessly about the next issue - which just went to press. Once I have the completed cover and can scan one in, I'll put it up and tease you too :-).... well, I can say that this is the best issue ever.
Somehow we managed to get everything taken care of for the holidays here. The shop(s), the next issue, and even almost all of the shopping and shipping done. Heck! There may even be time to send a few cards out this year. We'll have to see about that one, though.
One last thing - fudge!
This was (I believe) a Rachel Ray recipe, posted by Monica on The Dish. It is simple, and takes about 3 minutes. You need:
4 T. butter
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
1 pkg (12 oz.) semi-sweet morsels
1 cup (or more) pecans - optional
Melt butter slowly. Add chocolate to melted butter. When the chocolate is just melted, stir in the sweetened condensed milk with a whisk. I then add about enough pecans to make it more like fudge coated pecans.... yum! Mini-marshmallows, peanut butter, walnuts, coconut.... whatever you like can go in. Chill until firm, cut and serve.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Simply Natural Ornaments

We're pretty busy putting the finishing touches on the next issue, so I thought I'd post something from The Essential Herbal holiday issue the first year - 2002. We did an article listing ways to make things to decorate the tree.

There are so many beautiful ways to decorate the Yule tree without spending too much money. It does require a bit of forethought, but the results are well worth it. Here are some ideas.....
* The flowers that were pressed during the summer make lovely decorations if you have access to a laminator. Clear contact paper works too, but will not be as defined. Lunaria makes a great background. Add some deep blue larkspur, maybe some monarda, some arborvitae or boxwood leaves. Cut close to the flowers to avoid big empty areas. Punch a hole and add a ribbon.
* When peeling and eating citrus fruit, keep the peel as intact as possible. Use cookie cutters or scissors to cut out stars, hearts, or whatever shape you like. Cut a hole for hanging before drying. To dry flat, put a weight on top for a few days... although they will still curl a bit.
* Miniature (4") garlands are fun and fragrant. Soak 2' cinnamon sticks in warm watter to soften them. Combine with bay leaves, and string. Rosehips are a nice touch too.
* As a change from the traditional cranberry and popcorn garland, try a spice garland for incredible scent. Gather juniper berries, allspice, rosehips, 1" cinnamon pieces, cardamom pods in green and white, tonka beans or vanilla beans, star anise and hawthorne berries. Put all the hard dried spices in a large bowl of warm water. In a few minutes they will be soft enough for a needle to pierce. String with abandon. If these are stored properly to avoid tangles, they will last for years.
* Make tiny tussie mussies with dried flowers. Put lace around the outside, and glue small spring clothes pins to hang them from.
* Cut small dried goards to make a cup. Fill with moss, and then glue dried flowers to make a miniature floral arrangement. Drill holes in the sides to tie a ribbon handle - like a bucket.
* Use clear balls that can be opened to make tiny terrariums, using moss and wee woodland plants. If you look under the leaves, its easy to find pretty little plants to use. Mist lightly, seal, and hang.
* For a bit of sparkle, spray gold or silver paint onto pinecones and seedpods. Spray glitter works well too.
* Spice Clay Mix available at can be mixed with applesauce, rolled out like cookie dough, and cut with cookie cutters to make scented ornaments.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Today in the waiting room

I took my older brother in to the hospital for day surgery. The waiting room is huge, and it is the same room I spent 3 days in last March while my mother died. I wasn't looking forward to sitting there today. As I registered at the desk and got my beeper, I heard beautiful singing - quiet and many, many voices. Off to the side (well actually one whole side) of the room were between 30 and 40 Amish people. I have no idea who they were there for, or what had happened (although there was a nasty accident last night where a buggy was hit by a truck), but they were there to support someone. They sat in a huge circle holding hands, singing. Since the Amish here speak the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, the words of the songs weren't important as much as the least to me.I sat near enough to not be distracted by all the other small groups of people sitting and talking, but far enough not to intrude. Eventually a man stood at the head of the circle and started to pray in English. He prayed for all the people in the hospital, for all the family members, and for everyone touched by hardship or tragedy. No fire and brimstone, just a request for a blessing and peace...After that, they continued singing while taking turns going to see the person they were there to care for. It was very moving to see so many people caring so deeply and gathering in that place to do what they could. It completely changed the way I felt in that room. It was really beautiful.