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.