Sunday, December 31, 2006

Gardening Resolutions

Instead of fretting about the 10 teens that will be ravaging the house tonight, I've decided to daydream about next year's garden.
There is a whole new 8 foot wide "row" between the back fence and the trees. We are thinking it would be a good place for some plants. The patch to the right of the yard will be a corn field, and to the left, other veggies, like beans, peas, tomatoes, maybe beets, and who knows what all?
Early in the spring, I'll go find some elderberry babies.
This year, I will NOT plant them in the path of the watering hose. They would make a nice little hedge against part of the split rail fence, and there need to be enough for the birds and the family.
I will finish putting in the other half of the row of lavender.
I will distill the roses when they are in bloom.
We will make rose hip jelly.
The bayberries need to find a good spot in the woods.
The marshmallow is too close to the door, and spreads out into the walkway.
The flower bed in the front of the house needs a lot of work. This year, I won't let it get away from me.
Okay. That's enough. Maybe it would be easier to think about dancing teens.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Let's See if This Works

It just dawned on me that the 8 days prior to the next deadline (Mar/Apr issue, deadline Jan 15), I will be almost completely incommunicado - working 12 hour days at a fair. That will leave very little time to respond to any email questions about the deadline and upcoming issue.
This should be interesting! I will send reminders out to everyone who would normally get one, but with the New Year holiday, they could fall amid piles of unread emails.
I'm kind of curious to see how it all pans out. I think it will be fine. We'll let you know :-).

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Oh Tannenbaum!

Taking a break in the hustle and bustle of cooking and wrapping and last minute primping to write about our wonderful tree. This is a Concolor Fir. It has a fragrance that is a blend of balsam and citrus. Very fresh! The soft 1" needles are green on top and blue on the bottom. It is a gorgeous tree.
After the tree farm closed for the season, Molly and I went looking for a tree. They are all so pretty, so we decided to choose one that was all alone - meaning that it would have to be cut down anyway to make way for new planting or some other enterprise. We found this one. In the field, it appeared to be "typical" in height - around 7 feet.
HAH! Bob cut off about a foot from the bottom, and you can see that it is still scraping the ceiling. The angel is fastened onto the front of the top bough because she would have been mashed into the tree, otherwise. Now it didn't dawn on me until yesterday that the size of the tree makes a big difference in what is needed to decorate it. For the last 15-20 years, our trees have been smallish. 5' is plenty for me, but Molly wanted something bigger this year. We are only half done in this picture. Our smallish, handmade decorations are dwarfed by this tree! They disappear into the branches, and the tree - although heavily festooned - is in desperate need of some glitz. We went into the basement and found some of Mom's old decorations. She was the queen of gaudy when it came to the holidays. We added them this morning, and it helped.... some.
Tonight the table beside the tree will be covered with the buffet that we will share. I'm sneaking some chickweed pesto into the mix, but won't tell them until AFTER they eat it. I know they'll like it. We'll talk and laugh about things that are happening in our lives now, things that happened in the past, and at some point I'm sure we'll talk about how much we miss Mom. We always do. It seems, though, that the older we get, the more laughter there is. I'm thankful for that.
I'm an equal opportunity celebrater. It doesn't matter WHOSE holiday it is, I'm always game to celebrate. So on that note, I'd like to wish everyone a very happy holiday season, and a very happy and prosperous new year.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Essential Herbal Jan/Feb preview

It's taken me longer than usual to get the preview up for this issue. All I can say about it is that I am stunned with the quality AND the quantity of material that came in for this issue. The Essential Herbal has happily embarked on our 6th year, and if this issue is any indication, hang on to your hats!!!
We really strive to stay within 32 pages. There are a lot of reasons, one of the more important being to stay under a certain weight for mailing. Another reason is profit - more pages = more printing = higher cost. But we squeezed and shifted, made the margins smaller, edited, and still we wound up with 40 pages. Sure, we could have saved it for the next issue or the one after that, but it's so GOOD! One of these days I will grow a business head.
Here's what's inside:

Table of Contents
Crossword Puzzle
Field Notes
A Dash of Warmth, by Gracia Schlabach
Fall Distilling, by Maggie Howe
Kids Korner, by Karen Hegre
Suburban Herbie, by Geri Burgert
Aphrodisiacs, Love Potions, Philters, and Charms, by Cheryl Nolan
Interview with Jeanne Rose, by Tina Sams
Vitis Vinifera, by Gail Faith Edwards
Down on the Farm, by Michele Brown
Help for Tonsillitis/Sore Throat, by Jeanne Rose
Sweets for the Sweet, by Tamara Hartley Hunt
It's the Holidays and I'm Finally Retired, So Why Am I So Darned SAD? by Karen Mallinger
Chinese Sesame Scallion Biscuits, by Sarah Liberta
Flu and Cold Season, by Ricci Ackerman
Mustard, by Mary Ellen Wilcox
List Article on Uses of Lemon Balm, Compilation
An Herbal Valentine's Day, by Betsy May
Chocolate, My Passion, by Maureen Rogers

We missed regular contributors Susan Evans and Susanna Reppert, but they'll be back for the next issue!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Settling in to the Holidays

Today was the final day of the shop, and the tree farm closed for the season too.
We did pretty well, considering that all we really do is take the stuff we are normally doing anyway, and putting it out for the folks shopping for trees to look at and pick up if they're interested. No advertising, no big deal, it's just for fun - so we were pretty pleased. The trees did very well this year too. People seemed to really want real trees.
We had a great time playing with the gourds (yes, I've mentioned that before), and there are a few birdhouses hanging on the tree. In the front is a hinged gourd "box" I did, with all the edges trimmed in leather. I'm glad it didn't sell since it is my favorite. The shelves are looking pretty sparse in this picture.
The weather was gorgeous all season long. There were only a couple of days that could even really be considered cold. Most days were just sweatshirt weather.
It was really perfect.

So the shop closed at dark, and then, since today was Maryanne's birthday and tomorrow is Mark's birthday, everyone came up to my place for some soup and cake. It was nice and comfortable. I'd had company for the weekend, so everything was low-key. Altogether a very pleasant ending for a very pleasant season.
Now we begin our holiday in earnest around here. Some shopping has been done in the odd moments we squirreled away here or there, but for the most part it is yet to be done. Molly wants to do some baking, and we need to get a tree (I know a place...). The magazines are all packed up to go to the shops and writers - bulk mail went out last week - but I think they'll wait until Tuesday because tomorrow is supposed to be a nightmare at the post office.
Yep - now the holiday begins!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A Glimpse of the Soap Stash

I've been whining for a couple of weeks about all the soap we've been making, so last night I snapped a couple shots of the stacks in the racks. We're just about ready to move on to bathing herbs and sniffing jars.
Today will be the busiest day of the year on the tree farm. The soap curing room makes the shop smell wonderful, and I have mixed feelings about that. It also makes people buy the soaps - and it keeps flying out the door while we keep trying to get the shelves full. I know... some big problem, eh?

These are just some of the soaps. Because of the layout of the shelving, it wasn't possible to get all of them. There are about 19 different varieties.
A couple of them are seasonal, so we aren't worrying too much about them right now.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Rage at the Machine -, I mean...

I'm not talking about that nasty breach of etiquette that came along with the advent of the Web. You know, where people just say whatever comes to mind, with no thought to the consequences of their words? As time and experience with the social nuances of virtual conversation have gone on, most people have learned to be civil. Thank goodness. That was an ugly little blip in time, wasn't it?
No... what I'm talking about is those times when the computer just doesn't do what you expect it to do.
Last night I spent 4 hours (and if you've read the last few entries, you know how precious those hours are) trying to get a program that I've been using for years to work. I found a level of frustration that was here-to-fore unknown. The worst part is that I know this is my own doing. I can follow directions to a T, but if they don't work, I'm doomed to try again and again, pulling out the meager tricks that reside up my short sleeves. It wouldn't be so bad, except it is the program that sorts addresses to get the magazines out. The magazines are here all ready to be sent out, but the mail program freezes the computer when I do anything more than gaze forlornly at the icon. Tech help will contact me soon, and I will have to sound like a blazing idiot to someone who speaks computerese. I speak thing-a-ma-bob.
At some point, this will be fixed. Within a matter of minutes (ok...this might take a little more time than usual because I'm highly peeved) blood pressure will drop back to normal levels, my computer will return to its typical "friendly" mode, and I will all but forget how much I'd like to take a sledge hammer to it. At least that's what I keep telling myself.
Yes... all will be calm. The address labels will be printed and the magazines will be sacked and delivered to the post office, where my favorite postal workers (in Landisville, they are GREAT!) will crack me up with a joke. Soon the magazines will be arriving in shops, and into the hands of subscribers - who will LOVE this issue. Yes... yes... I can see it.
OOOMMMMmmmmmmmm..... OOOMMMmmmmm.....

Monday, December 04, 2006

Walking in the Fog

Most mornings of late look a lot like this - my back yard. It seems to have permeated my brain as well.
I've barely had a moment to sit down and write about all the stuff that's going on.
The first development was being invited to participate in the PA Farm Show. That might not ring a bell for many people outside of PA, but it is huge here. It involves 8 days, 12 hours each, and 400,000 attendees. Lancaster County Soapworks - my sister's company - is the official stand holder, but The Essential Herbal will be there under her wing. We will be doing two stage demos. This event takes place in the early part of January, beginning on the 6th. It is in Harrisburg. We will be in the Family Living section, which includes spinners, woodcarvers, weavers, chair caners... stuff like that. I'm certain that it will be great fun, and I'm equally certain that those long days will surely put the Crocs to the test.
Ok, no big deal. A few thousand bars of soap, several hundred sniffing jars, and some tub teas to get ready. There is some printing to be done. The magazine and books are always ready to go on the road. Ever since selling the shop, I've been so thrilled with how easy it is to set up these days. My stuff is a box or two. Maryanne's is maybe three. Sure beats the old days of riding home in a stuffed van with the leg of a stool bouncing off my head every so often...
But then, Frog Hollow Evergreens is seeing a record setting year! They have a "one price for any tree" deal, and folks really appreciate how reasonable it is. There aren't any hidden charges. Word has spread, and it is busy. Our little shop is seeing some of the best action we've gotten in years - including the renewal of a wholesale account that had gone missing. Even the hydrosols that were put up on a whim are selling! Maryanne is trying to squeeze in some custom requests for her torchwork. We are having some big FUN!!!
The magazine will be done at the printer's on Thursday. I'll get it into the mail (hopefully!) on Friday so that when Saturday rolls around I can be down at the shop.
Sooner or later, there will be some shopping to do and some decorations to toss out there. I'm hanging on with both hands and grinning from ear to ear.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Getting ready for .... EVERYTHING!

I've mentioned how crazy things are around our sleepy little hilltop. Last night, after a full day of mailing packages, working on the next issue, helping wrap soap, and oh yeah, running the still-off-school child around, I dragged the 6 foot ladder upstairs to work on the next cover. This will give you some idea of what we're going to be using.

We didn't want to re-run any content in the magazine, but needed to somehow acknowledge passing the 5 year mark. Standing on the ladder, leaning WAY out over the center to get the picture, I started giggling, thinking about how we do things around here. I thought about the now defunct TV show, Just Shoot Me, that was based on a big fashion magazine, and can't remember anyone ever crawling up a ladder in their dining room to snag a cover shot. Ugly Betty doesn't do anything like it either. Guess we're originals! This isn't the final, by the way. That one is still "in" the camera.

We're also working feverishly on getting ready for the PA Farm Show. Only a little over a month to go, and we'll have to fit it in with the shop at Frog Hollow Evergreens, getting the magazine into the mail, getting brochures and various stuff printed for the show, and, oh yeah.. the holidays.

I'll tell you more about the shop soon. There are decorated gourds everywhere!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

And we're off!!!

Thanksgiving has passed, and the shop at Frog Hollow is open. We've been getting ready for the Farm Show in January, and putting the finishing touches on the Jan/Feb issue. This is such a busy time. Oh ... and the gourds - they keep calling. I expect to take some photos of the shop and farm today, but in the meantime, pretty cute foraging comic (Grimmy) yesterday, eh?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Ahhh... the gourds!

If you're a subscriber to The Essential Herbal, or have been following along in the blog, you already know that we had a bumper crop of gourds this year and we've been dying to play with them.
We finally got around to it this weekend. We pulled out all of our paints, stains, lacing, micas, and rub-on, and went to town. We found out that it is true what you read... they really DO tell you how to work with them. Each gourd brought out a different style, a different medium. We had a ball. And there are at least 100 more just waiting to be worked on. Some will become birdhouses, some rattles, and even the tops that we cut off are most likely going to be fashioned into windchimes. My brother-in-law grows bamboo, too, so that would go well with the gourd tops. I love the ba-lonk, ba-lonk of bamboo windchimes.

The first one on the top is hard to photograph as it is so subtle, but it is layer upon layer of leaves. It reminded us of how leaves look underwater in the autumn.

It was a nice respite from the incredible amount of soap we've been making lately. The shelves are starting to groan, and we've only begun. Most likely we'll be installing shelving in my basement - which will then be known as the soap studio "annex".

Friday, November 17, 2006

Vegetarian Thanksgiving

The following is an article/recipe from Stephen Lee, the HerbMeister and was published in the Sept/Oct '01 issue of The Essential Herbal.  With the big meal only a week off, I thought it would be a good time to post it. 

Falling 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 carved 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 three 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 c. vegetable broth
1/4 c butter, unsalted
1 large onion, yellow - sliced thin
2 T Tarragon, fresh - minced
1 T brown sugar, dark
2 c toasted almonds, chopped fine
2 t kosher salt
1 t freshly ground white pepper
24 5"x5" pasta sheets, fresh OR equivalent lasagna noodles
1 c. dry bread crumbs
1 c. Parmesan cheese - freshly grated
1 c Ricotta cheese 

- Cut tops off 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 350 degree F. oven for about 1 hour, just until the pumpkin meat becomes tender.
- Remove pumpkins from the oven and let rest until cool enough to handle.
- Remove all the pumpkin meat from 4 of the pumpkins, reserving to a bowl and discarding 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 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 the 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 F. oven for 20 minutes.
- Remove the pumpkins from the oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
Serve warm.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Lunch with Jeanne Rose

Back when we started our shop at the Renaissance Faire (early 90's, now defunct) the internet was only a swelling dream. At that time, there were only books from various imaginative writers - and we pored over them, reading voraciously for inspiration. Many of them are still favorite references. Authors that come to mind include Phyllis Shaudys, Bertha Reppert, Scott Cunningham, Susun Weed, and Jeanne Rose. Their books offer so much. Many of the products that lined our little shop were from the pages of those books. The internet is a wonderful tool, but the books... well, I just prefer books. Besides having them at your fingertips where you can take them to the kitchen, take them on weed walks, and take them to the comfy chair, when people publish books they take some responsibility for the contents. I don't always find that to be true on the internet.
So when Susanna Reppert invited my sister and me to have lunch with Jeanne the day before her workshop presented at The Rosemary House, I was quick to take the opportunity! I asked for an interview, which will be in the Jan/Feb issue of The Essential Herbal.
We stopped at the Farmer's Market here in Lancaster to pick up some local delicacies, and somehow some African Mango Slaw got into the mix. I had my questions ready, and we discussed them on the ride up to Mechanicsburg.
Jeanne is a fascinating woman. We expected to take about an hour, but had to tear ourselves away after we suddenly noticed the afternoon was gone. I should have known that someone who has been using, writing, studying, and teaching herbs for 40 years would not "fit" into an hour long conversation. For some reason, I am now lusting after some Blue Sage oil, the color of which is gem-like.
We talked about so many things - distillation and the different types of stills (she has the copper stills), herbs vs. oils, Amish herbal uses, her travels, the changes that the internet has brought about, and how people learn these days. She and Susanna had been discussing some of these topics earlier, so we got the gift of their combined experiences. It was such an interesting afternoon. We talked so much that the desserts were never even touched! Nancy Reppert had joined us, but we were so deeply into the conversation that I can't remember when she got up to get back to work.
Luckily, I've got most of the other writing for the upcoming issue done so I can concentrate on writing up this visit.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Women of a Certain Age

This phrase has been coming to mind a lot lately. There are so many exciting things going on around here, and it seems that I am surrounded by women of a certain age - who are living their dreams.
Yesterday my friend Laura, who is preparing to accept an award for her performance in "The Tragic and Horrible Life of The Singing Nun" in an off-Broadway play, mentioned that she feels just like a teenager. I must agree with her on that.
My friend Sarah opened her shop - after dreaming for years of having a business with her daughter Kara. It was a great opening, filled with many serendipitous opportunities that will light the way for a successful, thrilling business - and life.
My friend Maureen is off flitting about in China right now, with a group studying herbal medicine.
My friends Michele Brown and Pat Stewart just aced their Master Herbalist tests at Australasian College of Herbs and Aromatherapy after 3 years of study.
And my sister and I were invited to do an enormous show in January that involves possibilities that were truly beyond our wildest dreams. It is so big that our brother gave us the Willow Way soaping equipment he had in his basement (see Maryanne's blog).
Many of us have waved lovingly at the 50 year mark - as we passed it. Some are still on the other side of 40.
I think about what I expected life to be like when I was young. In school, my image of 50 involved a lot of sleep... How different could it possibly be? Instead of slowing down, it seems that we are just hitting our strides, reaching further, finding our groove.
Why is it different? I think it has to do with learning the ropes. We no longer struggle with all the battles of youth. Everyday is a bad hair day. So what? We've made our contacts, created our businesses, and found ways to network that the good old boys never dreamed of. The glass ceiling still exists in the business world, so we built our own community. The thing that I am seeing more than anything else is that we help each other... really care about success for others as if it were our own. In a sense, it is. Sarah has talked about how geese honk to each other in flight, cheering and encouraging, guiding the group where it needs to go. In youth there is too much competition to appreciate anyone else's journey. As time passes, it becomes easier to truly enjoy the success of others, being proud of your friends....and I am SO very proud of my friends.
This is a wonderful time to be a woman of a certain age.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

One of the last balmy days of '06

Yesterday was simply gorgeous, and today looks like it is shaping up to be another just like it. I went for a walk in the woods and around the yard yesterday, gathering bits and pieces of "stuff", like tiny leaves that we'll try the electroform machine on, feathers, pinecones, and berries. And then I was just goofy enough to put it all together and take a picture.

The berries on the plate are big juicy rosehips from the Rosa Rugosa that my brother in law planted this past spring. They really took off, covering an entire hillside behind the "condo" where the pheasants currently reside.
Next year, we will definately make some jelly. We probably had plenty this year, but time was not so plentiful.
The pinecones grow right off the side yard. I'm not sure of the species of conifer... maybe a spruce. The firs growing there don't have cones that you can actually hold in your hand. They fall away into scales in the wind as soon as they are picked. I found a few violets, lots of beautiful leaves and holly berries... the yew out front is covered with the palest of blue berries. The mums and flowering sages are just knocking themselves out. And then there are the Jerusalem Artichokes. Oy.
Those knobby roots are the chokes. They are much simpler to harvest than I had imagined. One scoop with the shovel brings up a lot more than I can possibly serve for one meal. The scale is not very clear in the picture I took to show the quantity of chokes under a single plant, but each of the tubers are a couple inches in diameter. They are pretty tasty, almost like potatoes, except they have a "rooty" flavor that reminds me of ginseng. They contain inulin, which I had read was very good for helping to regulate blood sugar - and since they can be prepared in almost any way that potatoes are used, I thought they would be much better to eat than the regular starches. I'm still reading up on this, so I could be wrong. Still, free food is a good thing, and a health benefit would clearly be a bonus.
This is what they look like all cleaned and ready to cook. I tossed these into the oven for 30 minutes, and they softened, making it very easy to peel them. After that, I sauteed some sweet onions in a little butter and sliced the chokes like home fries, frying them just until they were browned. They took on a wonderful texture with a soft middle and a sort of crunchy-chewy outside... just what you imagine really good home fries would be like.
However. I must warn you that they produce intestinal gas. Lots. So, since I've got them and like them, looks like I'll need to try growing epazote next year and grabbing some Beano for now.

Monday, October 23, 2006

My friend's new shop

Many people who read the magazine or people the yahoo list know Sarah Campbell. She's a longtime friend and she is beginning a very exciting new adventure in downtown Lancaster. Wonderful timing, as Lancaster is experiencing a huge resurgence, and this is sure to be a big part of it. Having been on this particular adventure a while back with my sister, I am so excited for her, and am so tickled to see the glow radiating from her eyes. OH! That's the name of the new adventure - Radiance!
She and her daughter Kara Kriner are opening a great new business here in Lancaster.
For many years, Sarah has worked on learning about herbs. She's taken courses, traveled to workshops and classes, and studied. We've gone on many a weed walk together, field guides in hands, comparing notes. She has a gorgeous labyrinth in the backyard of her home, and uses the herbs that make up the labyrinth to create tinctures, balms, teas, and all sorts of herbal preparations. Over time, her stuff has become very popular through sales on her website and people started showing up at her house looking for her shop.
About this same time, Kara - a massage therapist and trained teacher of kid's yoga - was finding a little more time with her own daughter in school.
They started looking for a space where they could work together.
What they found is a beautiful, large, airy space right across the cobblestoned alley from the Lancaster Central Market. The address is 9 West Grant Street.
They have been hard at work for the better part of a month, and the result is gorgeous. I took some pictures when I stopped in today (and HAD to pick up a couple items!) even though they have only begun to stock the shop. The colors they have chosen for the floors, walls, and surfaces have blended to create something that remind me of what I imagine to be inside of a lush gypsy wagon.
The offerings are diverse and imaginative, fun and ... well, they are the sorts of things that make us feel luxurious without being wasteful. The beautiful African baskets are sturdy enough to use everyday. The bags made from hemp, nettle fiber, and recycled silk are very reasonable and yet seem decadent. Himalayan objects abound, from prayer flags to portable altars to hand puppets and singing bowls. There are all natural handmade soaps, sugar scrubs, and all sorts of pampering products. The incense is divine! The music on sale is world music - something for everyone. And of course there are the tinctures, bulk herbs, teas, ear cones, and on and on and on. This is certain to be one of the coolest shops this town has ever seen!
And yet, that's not all! There is a huge yoga room where Kara will be teaching kids - great for parents to hop across the way for a quick trot through the market ALONE! Note: That's my Molly in the picture with Sarah... There are two treatment rooms for massage, and there will be bellydancing lessons. There is a very large and quite unique eco-feminist lending library. Sarah and Kara are planning to have lots and lots of classes to get the community involved, and I know that my sister and I will be giving some of them too. This is very exciting! I think I may even be putting some hours in at this new place. I can't wait!
Just have to add this last shot. This morning Molly called to ask me to deliver her homework to school. As I got out of the car, I looked up and saw this tree. The leaves have the most unusual patterns, and are striking in their contrast. I'm sure the kids in the bottom level of the school got a chuckle watching me scamper around with the camera snapping shots of the leaves. Perhaps even more amusing would have been when I was fumbling around under the beech tree looking for beechnuts. Ah well, it's a new school for her.... so they don't know we're related - yet.

Friday, October 20, 2006

An Herbie in the News - with recipes!

Our friend Pat was recently interviewed by her local newspaper (my apologies for not getting the name of the paper) in S. Tennessee. Here it is:

Cook: Herbs figure importantly in Pat Stewart's cooking
By Karin Glendenning
Community News Writer
Pat Stewart is a busy woman. With a job as a quality systems manager at William Wrigley Jr. Company as well as growing herbs for Possum Creek Herb Farm and a business, called Down to Earth, where she makes and sells garden-inspired gifts and gourmet treats, she still finds time to cook and experiment with recipes.
She has entered the Hamilton County Fair on three occasions and each time came away with a blue ribbon for her entries: Tomato Juice, Tomato Bread and Parmesan Cornbread.
"Not only do I enjoy cooking, but I enjoy people enjoying my cooking," she said.
Except for baking, when she always follows recipes exactly, she likes to experiment with food. "It's Katie bar the door for me. It's always a pinch of this or a pinch of that," she said.
"I come from a family of cookers. I grew up where the family revolved around the hominess of the kitchen and breaking bread together. Lots of my recipes are ones I got from my mother and grandmother," she said.
"When I cooked Thanksgiving dinner the first year after my mother died, my dad said "If I'd closed my eyes, I would have thought Eileen (her mother) cooked it." That was the greatest compliment I've ever received. I thought I had arrived," she said.
Mrs. Stewart said she makes everything from scratch and likes making recipes her own. The Parmesan Cornbread is a good example of this. When she wanted to enter the fair, her husband suggested she enter her cornbread, so she went out to her backyard herb garden and gathered several varieties and came up with the prize-winning recipe.
Mrs. Stewart was born in Hixson, but her mother came here from New York, so she said her cooking reflects both Southern influences and Yankee ones. When it comes to Thanksgiving dressing, she said she always prepares her mother's recipe that uses regular bread instead of cornbread, but she has tweaked it so she uses half white bread and half whole-grain bread.
She said her specialties are her cheesecake, which she calls "the widow-maker," and her bread dressing. "I'm a purist when it comes to cheesecake. Mine is very dense and not fluffy. It's my mother's recipe," she said.
Mrs. Stewart partners with Michele Brown to grow herbs that they sell at Possum Creek Herb Farm in Soddy-Daisy. In two greenhouses she raises a huge variety of savory plants, including pineapple sage, Greek and Roman oregano, rosemary, salad burnet, lovage, sage, dill, cinnamon basil, Genovese basil, anise hyssop, chives, chamomile, chocolate mint, fennel and a selection of medicinal herbs. She also grows scented geraniums, and this year harvested a crop of garlic in her vegetable garden along with heirloom tomatoes, green beans, okra, cucumbers and squashes.
Several of the recipes she shares with readers today make use of many of the herbs she has learned to use to make her food interesting and tasty.

(Once Michele Brown of Possum Creek Herb Farm introduced me to the world of fresh herbs, I was hooked," said Mrs. Stewart. "I use Herbs de Provence, which is a combination of rosemary, thyme, savory, fennel seed, basil, lavender and marjoram. This is a great combination for any poultry or pork chops or loin." She said this recipe works best on a gas grill with indirect heat, or it may also be cooked in a 350 oven.)
Chicken breasts
Herbs de ProvenceExtra virgin olive oil
Preheat grill or oven. Rinse and dry boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Lightly coat chicken breasts on both sides with olive oil. Coat the tops of each breast with Herbs de Provence. Cook chicken breasts until done, without turning. The herb crust can be eaten with the chicken or scraped off. (The flavor will still remain.)

("As a child, I remember my grandmother and mother making these dumplings every time we had beef stew. I always thought they looked like clouds," said Mrs. Stewart.)
1 cup sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon shortening
1/3 to 1/2 cup milk
Sift dry ingredients together. Cut in shortening. Add enough milk to make a drop batter. Drop by spoonfuls on the top of simmering stew and cover. Cook, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Don't peek!

(Mrs. Stewart came up with recipe when she decided to enter the 2005 Hamilton County Fair and won a blue ribbon for it.)
2 cups self-rising corn meal mix
1 egg, beaten
1/8 cup oil
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon minced fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh sage
1/8 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 450. Mix ingredients together. Pour into a preheated 9-inch cast iron skillet or greased 9-inch square pan.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes. Sprinkle some extra Parmesan on top as soon as cornbread comes out of the oven.

1 1/2 cups dry black beans
1 1/2 quarts chicken broth
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Clean and rinse beans. Put beans, stock and oil in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer beans approximately 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 carrot, grated
1 medium potato, peeled and grated
3 tablespoons chopped green pepper
1/4 pound chopped or shredded ham (not a sweet, honey variety)
2 teaspoons fresh or 1 teaspoon dry oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 minced garlic clove
3 tablespoons parsley
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Juice of 1 lemon
Sauté onion in olive oil until tender, then add shredded carrot and potato. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring constantly.
At the 1 1/2 hour mark, add vegetables, ham and seasonings to beans. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for the remainder of the bean cooking time. The beans and vegetables should be tender.
Add lemon juice and stir.
Optional additions of any combination of chopped green onions, rice, sour cream or Louisiana Hot Sauce add spice and variety to the servings.

("This is a kind of 'make it your own' tuna salad. There ends up being less tuna in it than anything else," Mrs. Stewart said. "My husband told me years ago that he didn't like tuna salad. I love it, so I set out to find a way to get him to like it. This was the result. This makes enough for a crowd. You can play with the recipe and reduce it or just come up with a combination of your own," she added.)
4 to 5 cans light or white tuna in water, drained and flaked
Chopped Kosher dill pickles
Chopped red onion
Chopped celery
Chopped red and/or green bell pepper
Shredded carrot
Mayonnaise to taste or enough to hold mixture together
Combine ingredients, using amount and type of vegetables to suit personal taste. Serve with savory bread or chips.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


A couple of years ago one of my brothers gave me a calendar filled with "demotivators". They are twisted, a little dark and very, very funny.
I'm in that kind of mood today and thought maybe it might be fun to share that site. To see the many posters that parody the slick, goofy posters that cover the walls of corporate America's factories and cubicles, click on "Spin".

Monday, October 16, 2006

Nov/Dec teaser

Table of Contents

Field Notes from the Editor
Five years!!! What now?

Scented Pine Cones, Maggie Howe
Crafting with Pine Cones

Holiday Spice & Everything Nice, Rosanne Tartaro
Warming Scents for the Holidays

Never Enough Thyme, Susanna Reppert
The Cranberry - it’s All-American! Recipes and Crafts

Product Reviews
Wonderful new products and books

Kids Corner, Karen Hegre
Celebrating the Holidays - Crafts for Kids

Suburban Herbie , Geri Burgert
“Revolution!” Surviving the winter

Truly Essential Oil of Lavender, Lyn Belisle

The Herbs of Christmas, Maureen Rogers
Frankincense & Myrrh, Mistletoe,
Rosemary, Holly and more!

Down on the Farm, Michele Brown
Working the farmers market - and a little about apples

List Article “Hostess Gifts”
20 different ideas - most with recipes and instructions. All of them fun, beautiful and inexpensive.

Juniper Berries, Mary Ellen Wilcox
Information and recipes to get to know these beauties

Savory Starts “Appetizers”, Susan Evans
Delicious treats to enjoy at home or take along

Surviving a Hangover, Karen Mallinger
A little information on exactly why you feel so bad and how to avoid that horrible feeling.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

views from Amish Farm and House

There were so many interesting things to see while we were set up doing demos at The Amish Farm and House. Maryanne's blog (my sis) has more pictures of different things, by the way. In the tobacco shed, they show the tobacco hanging to dry. That used to be a very big crop in Lancaster County, but now we grow more corn, grains, and soybeans. The tobacco grown here was mostly used as the outer wrapping of cigars. I was happy to see this little guy crossing my path. A wooley bear caterpillar with NO black bands. Whoopie! That would mean a pretty mild winter. I've seen a few with very small black bands on either ends, but not when my camera was handy. I'm still on the hunt. Stay tuned.
This pair of pea fowl allowed me to take a picture, and I found a few small feathers around. They shimmer in the light like gemstones. We have some pea fowl living nearby. I've never seen them, but they sure make a racket. This pair was fairly quiet.
This pie wagon was directly across the path from us. The buggy was fitted with shelving to hold pies, cookies, breads, and jellies on three sides. We didn't stand a chance.
At exactly 10:45 all the bells in the county rang in memory of the Amish girls slain one week ago. There was a bell on the building directly behind me, and I found myself looking directly into the eyes of a young Amish woman when the bell rang out it's first chime.
This is a yew "bush". There are three just like it, and this "bush" must be several hundred years old. A woman visiting the farm was blown away by its size. She told us that she was a botanist, and that she'd never seen anything like it. Yews of this variety generally grown to about 6 feet under the best conditions. These were 30 to 40 feet high and spread even wider.
I have never really looked at a female ginkgo tree in fruit before. This one was lovely, and had not yet developed the scent that generally makes people avoid it. The flora growing on the farm was really stunning.
There was also a Chinese Chestnut tree growing. The quilter told me that in years past, the bounty found beneath the tree was much larger, but one tree had been cut down and this tree needed to self-pollinate, resulting in smaller nuts, and fewer of them. I had forgotten how prickly the burs of the chestnut are. They are like tiny needles, and it is nearly impossible to pick them up without stabbing yourself. Several of us compared methods we used in our childhood to get the nuts out of the burs. I particularly enjoyed one story of using the feet (shoes), and how important it was NOT to wear canvas sneakers while doing it.
One crafter had a beautiful display of dried ornamental plants and wreaths, along with wonderful potpourris and spices.
These Chinese lanterns are so pretty. When I was a kid, one of my great aunts always grew them along with "silver dollars" (Lunaria) and would put them into a large vase together. They seemed like the most extravagant thing to me at the time. Pure magic.
There were so many beautiful things to look at. I really enjoyed our days at this show. Autumn is arriving and painting everything in new colors. The air is brisk and clean.
Back to work on getting all the addresses up to date and the mailing labels printed up so that as soon as we get The Essential Herbal from the printer we can get them into the mail. Did I mention how wonderful this next issue is?

Monday, October 09, 2006

October has wings

So far, this month has been a mere blink of the eye.
It started with the deadline for the magazine on the first, and hasn't slowed since. At one point, we spent a day polishing the magazine *while* making 6 batches of soap.
I can't wait to post the cover and table of contents for the holiday issue of The Essential Herbal, because this issue is really terrific. So many recipes, crafts, and gift ideas... well, you'll see.

I'll post more pictures of this later, but yesterday and today we are taking part in Harvest Days at The Amish Farm and House on Route 30. Our job is to do soap demonstrations. We took along the fall additions to Lancaster County Soapwork's line (my sister's soap company) to sell, and my books and magazines. We were only going to do yesterday, but the people there are so nice and so easy to work with that when they asked if we could come back for the morning today, we quickly agreed. Besides, we got 3 batches of soap made yesterday! Full size, too. That's Maryanne standing in our tent getting ready to start a batch. We wanted to have a batch ready to show when the buses started arriving. She's talking to (another) Tina who does spinning. Tina sat next to us, and when she saw the gourds on the current cover asked if we knew where she could get a snake gourd. HAH! Do we ever! Her husband wants to make a Didgeridoo - may not have spelled that correctly - out of a snake gourd, so we'll take her one today.
The crafters at this celebration of the harvest are pretty amazing people. The quilter told us that she and the spinner both participate in another sort of festival that I have to keep under wraps at the moment - but if we do it, I'll be shouting from the rooftops. I'll keep you posted.
There will be more pictures tonight. Lots of great plants growing out there!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Sad day in Lancaster County, PA

The news is full of the story.... A 32 year old man with a 20 year old grudge walks into an Amish one-room schoolhouse with guns and sends the boys and adults away. He binds the feet of the little girls, faces them toward the chalkboard, and executes them. Then he kills himself.
There are more details, but they don't matter. He had three small children himself, two of them girls. What the hell happened here?
I've lived here all my life. The Amish are part of my home and part of my heritage. These children weren't even born when whatever happened to him happened. They had no telephone, no electricity, and no security. It was like shooting fish in a barrel... or clubbing baby seals. They were babies, defenseless and innocent.
Just last week we were driving down in the country and passed a schoolhouse where the children were outside playing a game of baseball during recess or maybe lunch. My sister remarked about the tiny little girl holding the bat. We laughed and both silently thought about childhood and the pure pleasure of being a kid, playing a game, being with your friends. All of the schools look pretty much alike, and most of them are now surrounded by chain-link fences to keep out the tourists. They are posted "no trespassing" because of the tourists. I'm sure that they never, ever thought such a thing as this could happen. Nobody in this town ever thought such a thing could happen.
This has shaken our community - plain and fancy alike. Aside from a few issues with road usage, the Amish just exist peacefully alongside of the rest of us. They don't judge, they don't witness, and they don't care what anyone else does. They just want to lead their lives as they see fit. To have something like this happen feels very personal. It is heartbreaking.
And the thing that I keep thinking today is that the Amish will already have forgiven this man by the time I finish writing about it. They believe that only God has the right to judge or take revenge, and that they must find a way to love and forgive. They will, too.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

vinegars and hot pepper jelly

Getting ready to put out the next issue means actually testing out some of the items to go into the magazine

There are probably 100 crafts, recipes, and ideas to use for the holidays in this issue.  We can't do them all, but we attempt a good many. 

Two of them are herbal vinegars and hot pepper jelly. I've eaten hot pepper jelly before and really do love it with cream cheese on crackers. Considering that the garden is spewing hot peppers faster than I can string them onto ristras, it seemed like there needed to be other things done with them. 

We made a dozen jars of the jelly, and had another larger jar that we'll probably serve this coming Friday night at the weekly family dinner. The Pink vinegar is a lovely opal basil vinegar with a touch of garlic and thyme. It came out beautifully, and I might need to make some more. 

The other is "Red Hot Rosemary" vinegar, suggested by Mary Ellen Wilcox. Not finished yet is "Scarborough Faire", with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. It is steeping now, and in a few days I'll bottle it and add the herb garnish. 

Here's a delicious recipe using Hot Pepper Vinegar: 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!

All this fun in the kitchen isn't enough to keep us from our regular chores. The still has been in regular use because frosty weather is breathing down my neck, threatening to destroy all the botanicals that need to be distilled, and Maryanne's soap business is in high gear with all of her wholesale customers starting to place orders for the holiday season. Even so, around about Saturday, I'll be seriously focused on finalizing the magazine. It is going to be the best holiday issue ever... and it will also finish up 5 whole years!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


The Fall is upon us, and there is so much more to do than I remember from years past. Lately I've been helping Maryanne catch up with her soap business. It has been growing by leaps and bounds (most likely because it is such wonderful stuff), and we went from making 2 batches a day to 4, and now 6. We work so smoothly together, and have this great work-shop to do it in that it goes very well. The picture of the workshop shows the yellow delicious apple tree that is begging me to find time to make applesauce and apple butter. There is the gourd trellis where the gourds are drying, and you can make out part of the garden.
Of course there is the still that calls me constantly too. On an evening walk, we gathered enough plantain to try tomorrow. There are all the sages, the basils, the mint, and the evergreens. Next year there will be many more things to try.
Right now I'm also making vinegars - mostly hot pepper and opal basil. The peppers also need to be made into jelly. If it seems like I'm complaining, that is not the case. I'm THRILLED! A little scared too - lol. The next magazine deadline is this coming Saturday, and it is the holiday issue AND the issue where we do lots of product/book reviews. There are a lot of little things I need to do beforehand. All fun.

Another thing we discovered during a walk the other day was this Rusty Black Haw tree. The berries have a large pit, turn black, and the one I tasted reminded me of dried plum. Not bad, a little bland, but it is always interesting to find new edible plants somewhere that you've been walking past for years and not noticing. There are so many wonderful edible plants around here. With the recent scare caused by E. Coli bacteria in cultivated spinach, I'm pleased to have and know so many wild greens. I'm thinking about sewing some spinach right quick since it might be the right weather for it now.

Lastly, while making deliveries the other day, we saw this little display outside a roadside stand. Those corn wreaths were eye catching and colorful, and the pumpkins and gourds were a sure sign that summer is officially over.

So that night I pulled the watermelon and squash vines. Just waiting for the beans to finish drying. Soon, very soon, I'll be planning next year's garden - and it is going to be a doozy!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Wooly Bears and the Weather

The Wooly Bear Caterpillars are out in force, marching from one field to the next. The first place they usually catch my eye is crossing country roads. This year I've also been seeing lots of them in my yard and garden.
Here's the thing... there isn't a bit of black banding. That would mean an extremely mild winter. In a day or so, I'll take the camera out on a wooly bear safari and see if I can capture the likenesses of a bunch of them so we can compare.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Meet my friend Laura Daniel (remember that name)

Back in the days of the Renaissance Faire, my sister and I became good friends with Laura. She moved to New York, and for years we've stayed in daily contact - thanks to the computer. I've been vicariously riding the rollercoaster of auditions, headshots, gigs, and classes right along with her.
Her most recent part is that of the Singing Nun in "The Tragic and Horrible Life of The Singing Nun".
The play is a short run, ending next Friday, but the reviews have been great. I'm hoping this one goes to Broadway, and takes Laura along.
Anyhow... I'm pretty proud of my friend. She has never, ever stopped following her dream. The day will soon arrive that she will be called an overnight success. She should have been.
Back to our regularly scheduled herb stuff :-).

Monday, September 11, 2006

Colonial Day in East Berlin

This past Saturday we spent as vendors at Colonial Day in East Berlin.
As always, vending at a show is interesting.
To begin with, we needed to be costumed. Knowing about this show since May, you'd really think that we could have had that all worked out by now, but no. We procrastinated until last week. We decided to try the costume shop at Millersville University - where they have 11,000 costumes. We went to check it out. Well... the admissions office didn't seem to know it existed until we googled it on their computer. We had to ring a doorbell to enter the building (??? at a college ???), and then the 7 or 8 people working there were WAY too busy talking to offer us any assistance. We left - but not before Molly got to try on some of the hats. She really wanted a hoop skirt. Costumes rent for about $50/week, for those who don't mind wading through thousands of costumes on racks that are out of order - without any help, of course. If I seem a tad miffed, it is because I am.
We just got out some old ren faire stuff, made a couple of aprons, and pulled it off.
The morning of the show, we woke (at 4) to some very thick fog. In fact, a few miles out we missed a turn, but realized it quickly. The trip there was a little frightening, and daybreak didn't change it much. The fog hung around until at least 9.
Although we got there a full hour before the start of the show, the streets were already filled with shoppers. That was a little weird.
We got ourselves set up, and met our neighbors - a wood-carver, and a lady that painted pots. Both very nice, btw.
The first half of the day, sales were decent and we were approached by several other festival organizers and some wholesale acct. possibilities.
By noon, the crowd started to dwindle, and it got pretty dull.
We had forgotten to bring anything to sit on, and somehow I managed to fall on some loose stones behind the booth. Every joint in my body started to stiffen up painfully, but eventually one of the organizers found us a couple of chairs (bless her!).
This festival is juried. In the last few years, the whole town has understandably started to join in the effort. But that means that there is no real meaning to the juried portion of the show. Right outside of the bounds of the juried section, a man sat on his porch selling GREEN gourds that he'd cut holes in for birdhouses. Those will be rotten in a week! There were yardsales and white tents throughout the whole town. It diluted the festival for us.
Besides that, I've got a theory about arts and crafts festivals in our area... 30 years ago, there was ONE really great show held at F&M college each spring. It was wonderful, with real art, and fabulously unique crafts. I used to take off work to attend it. Since then, there have gotten to be so many of these things - most include MLM companies like Avon and Home Interiors, etc., that on any given weekend, one could find about 20 shows. Instead of paying a few bucks to set up, it now costs in the hundreds - but the return is much less. Maybe its time to do something different.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Blending Teas

My friend Rachel at is having a contest, and it involves a blog entry about her business. She wrote the following article for the September/October '05 issue of The Essential Herbal, so.... I'm IN!!! Here is a link to her blog if you'd like to join in.

How I Blend Teas by Rachel Johnston of

Originally when my first tea blends came into creation, I was wild about making teas that were not only tasty but provide a healthy beverage for people. So many times, herbal concoctions for health and wellness just tasted bland and brittle to my palate. Today, I am still very passionate about this aspect of blending, but have expanded my repertoire. When you visit, you will find an expansive selection of green, white and black tea varieties as well as herbals (often referred to as tisanes). My process for blending teas and scents is quite simple for the most part. Once a week and sometimes daily, I sit down and do a meditation to get different ideas. This way my mind is clear and focused and I am "in the now" of what I am doing. Fabulous ideas come to me in my sleep as well. After meditation, I sit down with all of the herbs and teas in my studio and begin choosing them on instinct. I rarely pair tastes together on purpose, but rather let Spirit guide me to the perfect combination. I have coined a term in my classes for this type of blending. I call it "blind blending" where I simply close my eyes and choose at will. This is one of the primary ways tea is blended here at As the teas and herbs are added, I smell each one and give thanks to the plant for being part of the blend. I also inhale the scent of each ingredient very deeply to get a sense of the essence or personality of each botanical. My sense of this part of the process is what one might call dry aromatherapy. Different herbs will evoke powerful feelings and memories and propel me towards the next ingredient to be added. When the blend is complete, I take a moment to give thanks to Spirit for guiding me. Then the blend is mixed thoroughly and I record my notes, thoughts and recipe in my tea blending book. We then begin taste testing which is my son’s favorite part! My son is also learning to blend teas and scents. At the ripe age of 13, he is proving to be quite a creative genius in the process. He lends his own unique style and insight and is a perfect addition to our growing company. We also make custom blends and scents as well. There are many wonderful companies that provide teas in the world. We like to think we do things differently through our creative process. This process and our commitment to outstanding customer service is what makes stand apart. Choosing tea and scent are both deeply personal choices for people. We recognize this and are always here to answer questions and to offer assistance anytime. We know that our clients have a choice where they purchase products and we value them for choosing us as a source for fulfilling their needs

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

First Distillation with the New Still

Several months ago, the Yahoo list for the magazine started talking about distillation. Tamara Hartley-Hunt helped put together a buy on stills from her friends at Heart Magic. Maggie from Prairieland Herbs has talked about how much she enjoys it for quite some time, and I've been interested ever since I read about using a pan, a brick, a bowl, and an inverted lid filled with ice. But I digress... I decided to spring for this still, and it has been sitting in the box through the move. This morning, Maggie gave me a kick in the pants and I got started. This is sure to become my latest obsession.
After figuring out the instructions for putting the thing together, the rest is fun and exciting.... well, once I got the hoses on the condenser to stop popping off and shooting water all over the kitchen.
In the shot above, the still is set to go, and in this picture it is actually turned on. The water is clear in the bottom chamber. Nothing has started to drip into the collection flask yet. What you can't see is the wet towel used to sop up the water that got all over the counter, nor can you hear my panicky phone call to my sister asking for a hand. However by the time she got here, all was under control.
Here you can see that the water is starting to boil. The condenser (the long thin tube above the green clamp) is starting to have tiny bits of steam adhere to the inside and cool from the water running inside the walls of the tube. It is something like a donut, with cool water pumped through the "donut" part. The steam comes through the "hole" part. This still came with the hot plate, and that has a heat shield on the back, where the collection takes place so that the oil and hydrosol are not exposed to the direct heat.
Now the boiling water is starting to darken. If you look at the flask under the drip spout, you'll notice that it is starting to collect some hydrosol. Inside the spout, there is a chamber where the essential oil collects. Eventually, the water turns very dark. I kept adding ice cubes to the water in the pail. Inside the pail is the pump that circulates cool water in the condenser. I was surprised how quickly the water in the pail became warm.
We filled four 2 oz. spray bottles with the hydrosol and still have a full 8 ounces in the collection bowl. It was a little surprising how much hydrosol there was. As far as the essential oil, there were probably about 30-50 drops. Maryanne put it on her arm to test it, but I (of course) tasted it. It tastes slightly different from other peppermint essential oils I've tasted. Greener and VERY nice. It all smells delightful.

The spent plant material. It probably could have cooked longer, but we decided to turn it off because we had some errands that needed to be run. I emptied them after returning to the cooled still, and was very glad that I'd followed the instructions that suggested cutting the pieces to about 1" for ease of removal.
Clean up was pretty much of a breeze. Some bottle brushes might be in my future, though.

The very next thing I did was head out to pick the Holy Basil for tonight's adventure. I've been babying that stuff all summer to keep it from flowering. Pinch, pinch, pinch. See my green thumb? Ok, well maybe it's more like brown, but that's because of the purple stems of the Holy Basil.